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Workplace Factors
Psychological and social issues that affect sickness absence from work

At a glance:
Health and disease do not wholly determine the amount of time a person spends on sick leave. This study investigated the effects of psychological
psychological
Refers to a person's perceptions, thought processes, emotions, personality and behaviour. Psychologists can treat mental health problems.
 and social issues at work on sickness absence.

Women seem to be more likely to take long-term sick leave if their work is not rewarding, if they believe they have poor managers, or if they have trouble meeting conflicting responsibilities at work.

Men seem to be more likely to take long-term sick leave if they find their work emotionally demanding, or if they are required to hide their emotions.
Perspectives:
Employee
The way an employee feels about their management at work can affect the amount of time they spend on sick leave. Good management is difficult, not every manager has the natural talents to make the job easier. Some don't get much training. It's frustrating when management issues make a return to work more difficult, but handling the situation positively, rather than getting angry, is likely to be most helpful to you and to others in a similar situation.

We all need and deserve feedback. Providing your company with feedback in a positive way can help them improve the way they handle cases like yours. Negative complaints rarely make a difference, so it's important that you focus on what needs to be done, not on what has been done badly. In other words, it's important that your feedback focuses on solutions, not on problems.

Depending on your workplace and what you are most comfortable with, the best approach may be a letter to management, a meeting with your manager or supervisor, or another arrangement.
Employer
Management and the workplace environment have significant impacts on sickness absence. When people feel positive about their work they are less likely to take sick leave, and more likely to be as productive as possible.

Employers can provide support by

Listening to employees
Allowing employees to be as independent in their work as is possible
Making sure employee responsibilities are clear and reasonable
Treating staff with respect

Other studies have demonstrated that supervisors can be trained in return to work management. Improving supervisors' communication skills can lead to improvements in the work environment, which in turn can reduce sickness absence.
Treater
If the return to work is progressing slowly, it is appropriate to ask about non-medical factors. The workplace culture and psychosocial
psychosocial
Refers to psychological and social factors. Examples of psychosocial factors that affect return to work area include: a person's beliefs about how they will cope with their condition, the attitude of the inured worker's family to their condition and return to work, the employer's return to work policy and the influence of the WorkCover system on a person.
 factors play a significant role in return to work management.

Managing employees can be a difficult area of work, for which people are often not well trained. Providing employers with constructive feedback on workplace culture and environment can influence return to work outcomes. Employers have an interest in providing management which facilitates a positive workplace culture and environment.
Insurer
If return to work is progressing slowly, claims managers may consider the nonmedical factors that might be affecting progress. The culture and environment of the workplace can have significant effects on the amount of long term sickness absence a person takes. Management style is another important factor. The employer has an interest in providing the best management they can, and creating a workplace culture and environment that is positive and productive. However, employers don't always understand the effects of these factors on sickness absence and return to work, so it's worth providing information and encouragement on these points.
Original Article, Authors & Publication Details:
T. Lund1, M. Labriola1, K. B. Christensen1, U. Bultmann1, E. Villadsen1 and H. Burr1 (2005).

Psychosocial Work Environment Exposures as Risk Factors for Long-Term Sickness Absence Among Danish Employees: Results From DWECS/DREAM. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine 47(11): 1141-1147.

1National Institute of Occupational Health, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Background, Study Objectives, How It Was Done:
Sickness absence is not wholly determined by medical factors. Previous studies have shown that psychological and social issues such as job satisfaction and workplace stress play a role in determining sickness absence.

This Danish study investigated the ways in which the psychological and social environment at work influenced long-term sick leave (defined as lasting 8 or more weeks).

5141 employees aged from 18-64 completed the study. These participants were randomly selected from a national statistical database. 51% were men and 49% were women. They had not taken any sick leave over the last 2 months.

The participants were interviewed by researchers and gave information on their work environments, along with personal information about their age, education, family, health and lifestyle. Over the next 18 months, the researchers observed how much sick leave each participants took, using the same national database
database
Store of information (e.g. published research articles). Information can be retrieved by searching (e.g. for key words, authors, or titles).
 to gather the information. They then determined which psychological or social issue influenced long-term sick leave.

The information gathered on each participant's psychological and social environment at work included:

How much authority the participant had to make decisions
How much skill was involved in their work
Whether they had to work under pressure
Whether they were under emotional pressure at work, or felt like they had to hide their emotions
How rewarding, meaningful and predictable their work was
Whether their responsibilities were clear and reasonable
The quality of management
Social support and conflict at work
Job security

The researchers took into account other factors that influence sick leave, such as health and chronic
chronic
continuing a long time or recurring frequently
 disease, behaviour and lifestyle (including alcohol use, smoking habits, weight and exercise), and personal characteristics such as age, family situation and the physical demands of the job.
Study Findings:
  • 7% of participants took long-term sick leave over the course of the study.
  • More women took sick leave than men (55% compared to 45%).
Women were more likely to take long-term sick leave if:

  • They did not believe they had good managers
  • Their work was not rewarding
  • They had conflicting responsibilities that were hard to meet
Men were more likely to take long-term sick leave if:

  • Their work was emotionally demanding
  • They were required to hide their emotions
These risks were significant influences on long-term sick leave regardless of the individual's health, lifestyle, personal situation, individual characteristics, or the physical demands of their job.
Conclusions:
Health and disease are not the only important factors that influence work absence. Many others, including work environment, also have an effect.

The environmental factors that affect long-term sickness absence do not appear to be the same for men and women. This study found that women are more likely to take long-term sick leave if they believe they have a poor managers, if they find their work unrewarding and if they have trouble meeting conflicting responsibilities at work. Men were found to be more likely to take long-term sick leave if their work was emotionally demanding, or required them to hide their emotions.
References:
PubMed Abstract
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