Background: The objective was to explore if burnout, a syndrome from chronic work stress, predicts work disability during eight years among industrial employees. We investigated whether burnout would predict disability in initially healthy employees and all subgroups by the most common causes for disability.
Methods: Of the participants in a company-wide survey (n=9705, 63%) performed in 1996, 8371 employees were identified and 7810 provided full information. The impact of burnout and its sub-dimensions, assessed with the Maslach Burnout Inventory-General Survey, on being granted register-based new disability pension till 2004 was analysed with Cox hazard regression and multinomial regression. The analyses were adjusted for socio-demographic factors, registered medication use, and self-reported chronic illness at baseline.
Results: The hazard ratio (HR) for new disability pension was 3.8 (95% confidence interval CI 2.7-5.4) with severe burnout. The risk of severe burnout and severe exhaustion for work disability attenuated but remained significant after adjustments. The association between severe burnout and work disability was significant also in the subpopulation of employees without registered medication at baseline but not among employees healthy by self-report. Crude associations between burnout and all categories of cause-specific disability were significant. The exhaustion dimension predicted work disability due to mental and miscellaneous disorders after adjustments.
Limitations: A non-random one-branch sample was used. The final sample covered 50% of eligible employees.
Conclusions: In industrial work, burnout-related chronic work disability is general in nature. Burnout predicts work disability among healthy employees when health is assessed with registered use of medication but not when it is determined by self-report.