Objectives: The aim of this study is to examine the role of coping styles in sickness absence. In line with findings that contrast the reactive-passive focused strategies, problem-solving strategies are generally associated with positive results in terms of well-being and overall health outcomes; our hypothesis is that such strategies are positively related to a low frequency of sickness absence and with short lengths (total number of days absent) and durations (mean duration per spell).
Methods: Using a prospective design, employees' (N = 3,628) responses on a self-report coping inventory are used to predict future registered sickness absence (i.e. frequency, length, duration, and median time before the onset of a new sick leave period).
Results and conclusions: In accordance with our hypothesis, and after adjustment for potential confounders, employees with an active problem-solving coping strategy are less likely to drop out because of sickness absence in terms of frequency, length (longer than 14 days), and duration (more than 7 days) of sickness absence. This positive effect is observed in the case of seeking social support only for the duration of sickness absence and in the case of palliative reaction only for the length and frequency of absence. In contrast, an avoidant coping style, representing a reactive-passive strategy, increases the likelihood of frequent absences significantly, as well as the length and duration of sickness absence. Expression of emotions, representing another reactive-passive strategy, has no effect on future sickness absenteeism. The median time before the onset of a new episode of absenteeism is significantly extended for active problem-solving and reduced for avoidance and for a palliative response. The results of the present study support the notion that problem-solving coping and reactive-passive strategies are inextricably connected to frequency, duration, length and onset of sickness absence. Especially, active problem-solving decreases the chance of future sickness absence.