Illness perceptions and work participation: a systematic review

Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2010 Aug;83(6):595-605. doi: 10.1007/s00420-010-0506-6. Epub 2010 Feb 4.


Purpose: Self-regulatory processes play an important role in mediating between the disease and the health outcomes, and potentially also work outcomes. This systematic review aims to explore the relationship between illness perceptions and work participation in patients with somatic diseases and complaints.

Methods: The bibliographic databases Medline, PsycINFO and Embase were searched from inception to March 2008. Included were cross-sectional or longitudinal studies, patients with somatic diseases or complaints, illness perceptions based on at least four dimensions of the common sense model of self-regulation, and work participation.

Results: Two longitudinal and two cross-sectional studies selected for this review report statistically significant findings for one or more illness perception dimensions in patients with various complaints and illnesses, although some dimensions are significant in one study but not in another. Overall, non-working patients perceived more serious consequences, expected their illness to last a longer time, and reported more symptoms and more emotional responses as a result of their illness. Alternatively, working patients had a stronger belief in the controllability of their condition and a better understanding of their disease.

Conclusions: The limited number of studies in this review suggests that illness perceptions play a role in the work participation of patients with somatic diseases or complaints, although it is not clear how strong this relationship is and which illness perception dimensions are most useful. Identifying individuals with maladaptive illness perceptions and targeting interventions toward changing these perceptions are promising developments in improving work participation.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Employment*
  • Humans
  • Illness Behavior*
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders
  • Self Concept