Organisational downsizing and musculoskeletal problems in employees: a prospective study

Occup Environ Med. 2001 Dec;58(12):811-7. doi: 10.1136/oem.58.12.811.


Objectives: To study the association between organisational downsizing and subsequent musculoskeletal problems in employees and to determine the association with changes in psychosocial and behavioural risk factors.

Methods: Participants were 764 municipal employees working in Raisio, Finland before and after an organisational downsizing carried out between 1991 and 1993. The outcome measures were self reports of severity and sites of musculoskeletal pain at the end of 1993 and medically certified musculoskeletal sickness absence for 1993-5. The contribution of changes in psychosocial work characteristics and health related behaviour between the 1990 and 1993 surveys was assessed by adjustment.

Results: After adjustment for age, sex, and income, the odds ratio (OR) for severe musculoskeletal pain between major and minor downsizing and the corresponding rate ratios for musculoskeletal sickness absence were 2.59 (95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.5 to 4.5) and 5.50 (3.6 to 7.6), respectively. Differences between the mean number of sites of pain after major and minor downsizing was 0.99 (0.4 to 1.6). The largest contribution from changes in work characteristics and health related behaviour to the association between downsizing and musculoskeletal problems was from increases in physical demands, particularly in women and low income employees. Additional contributory factors were reduction of skill discretion (relative to musculoskeletal pain) and job insecurity. The results were little different when analyses were confined to initially healthy participants.

Conclusions: Downsizing is a risk factor for musculoskeletal problems among those who remain in employment. Much of this risk is attributable to increased physical demands, but adverse changes in other psychosocial factors may also play a part.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Job Description
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / etiology*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain Measurement
  • Personnel Downsizing*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sick Leave
  • Statistics as Topic