Introduction: This article reports a prospective study that focused on the influence of organizational structure and organizational culture on the outcome of sickness absence, return to work or work disability. Former studies of determinants of work disability hardly have given attention to organizational characteristics and, if so, not following a appropriate prospective design.
Methods: The study population consisted of 455 employees of 45 for-profit and not-for-profit companies participating in the Maastricht Cohort Study on fatigue at work who were on sick leave for at least 6 weeks. Both independent variables which were type of company, size, centralization of decision making and organizational culture, and covariates, which were sex, age, educational level, fatigue, and chronic illness, were all measured before employees reported sick. The dependent variable outcome of the sickness absence, mainly return to work or work disability, was measured 15 months after reporting sick.
Results: Multilevel logistic regression analysis, with organizational characteristics as level 2 independent variables and demographic and health characteristics as covariates, suggested that the type of company (for-profit/private or not-for-profit/public) is predictive of the outcome of sickness absence (crude OR = 2.21; CI: 1.16-4.20), but this may be partially due to a higher proportion of fatigued and chronically ill employees in not-for-profit companies (adjusted OR = 2.09; CI: 0.93-4.37). Findings about the role of some other organizational characteristics, like organizational culture, were inconclusive.
Conclusions: Organizational characteristics should next to health characteristics be included in the models of studies which aim at predicting which sick employees are at risk for work disability. To prevent work disability not-for-profit companies might be stimulated to more active return-to-work policy by charging them with the costs of it.