More overtime equals less sick leave at work

February 12, 2001

Physical, psychosocial, and organisational factors relative to sickness absence: a study based on Sweden Post 2001; 58: 171-84

People who do a lot of overtime at work are less likely to take days off sick, shows research in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. But employees who struggle through work when they are ill actually end up having more sick leave.

The study analysed the sickness absence records of around 3500 staff at the Swedish mail service, Sweden Post. All grades of employment were assessed, including postmen/women, administrators, cleaners and technicians. Staff were also sent a questionnaire about the physical, psychosocial, and organisational aspects of the workplace. Over three quarters of them responded.

Older workers were less likely to take time off for sickness than younger workers, and slightly more women than men took sick leave, the analysis showed. Physically strenuous and repetitive work was associated with more sick leave for both men and women. And women who worked in a forward bent position took twice as much sick leave as women who did not work in this way.

Bullying at work was reported by 16 per cent of women among whom it doubled the risk of sick leave. For men the most significant predictor of sick leave was anxiety about reorganisation in the workplace.

Working instead of taking sick leave when ill was more common among both men and women who took a lot of time off work for sickness. Men who worked through illness and who worried about reorganisation were three times as likely to take time off sick. But working 50 or more hours a year of overtime was associated with a low rate of sickness absence.

Dr Margaretha Voss, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Insitute, Stockholm, Sweden.

Dr Ching Aw, Deputy Editor, Institute of Occupational Health, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Birmingham.

BMJ Specialty Journals

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