A meta-analysis of observational studies identifies predictors of sickness absence

J Clin Epidemiol. 2007 Nov;60(11):1105-15. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2007.04.008. Epub 2007 Aug 23.


Objective: About one in every three employees seen by their occupational physician is absent from work because of psychosocial health complaints. To implement preventive measures, it is necessary to identify predictors for this type of sickness absence.

Study design and setting: A meta-analysis was carried out to quantify the association between predictive factors and psychosocial sickness absence and to assess clinical outcomes and heterogeneity. Eligible for inclusion were prospective studies that examined this association and provided sufficient information to estimate summary odds ratios (SORs).

Results: Twenty prospective studies were included. Significant SORs for sick leave >3 days were found for being unmarried, 1.37 (95% confidence interval [CI]=1.15-1.64), experiencing psychosomatic complaints, 1.79 (95% CI=1.54-2.07), using medication, 3.13 (95% CI=1.71-5.72), having a burnout, 2.34 (95% CI=1.59-3.45), suffering from psychological problems, 1.97 (95% CI=1.37-2.85), having low job control, 1.28 (95% CI=1.23-1.33), having low decision latitude, 1.33 (95% CI=1.16-1.56), and experiencing no fairness at work, 1.30 (95% CI=1.18-1.45).

Conclusion: This study shows that predictors of sickness absence can be identified in a homogeneous manner. The results provide leads to public health interventions to successfully improve psychosocial health and to reduce sickness absence.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism*
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology
  • Drug Therapy / psychology
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Marital Status
  • Occupational Diseases / psychology
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychology, Social
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / psychology
  • Research Design
  • Sick Leave*