Background: Sickness absence is an important problem in healthcare that affects the quality of care. Sickness absence has been related to coping strategies. Problem-focused coping was shown to be associated with low sickness absence and emotion-focused coping with high sickness absence among postal workers.
Objectives: This study investigated the relationship between coping styles and sickness absence in healthcare.
Design: Prospective study linking self-rated coping styles at baseline with the number of episodes of sickness absence during one year of follow-up.
Setting: Somatic hospital employing 1,153 persons.
Participants: Convenience sample of 566 female nurses working in the hospital's clinical wards and outpatient clinic. Of these, 386 (68%) nurses had complete data for analysis.
Methods: The nurses completed a questionnaire at baseline with items on health, work, and coping styles. Three styles of coping were defined: problem-solving coping (i.e., looking for opportunities to solve a problem), social coping (i.e., seeking social support in solving a problem), and palliative avoidant coping (i.e., seeking distraction and avoiding problems). Sickness absence data were retrieved from the hospital's register in the following year. The association between the coping styles and the number of both short (1-7 days) and long (>7 days) episodes of sickness absence was assessed by Poisson regression analyses with age, work hours per week, general health, mental health, and effort-reward [ER] ratio as covariates.
Results: Problem-solving coping was negatively associated with the number of long episodes of sickness absence (rate ratio [RR] = 0.78, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.64-0.95). Social coping was negatively associated with the number of both short episodes (RR = 0.88, 95% CI = 0.79-0.97) and long episodes (RR = 0.79, 95% CI = 0.64-0.97) of sickness absence. After adjustment for the ER-ratio, the associations of coping with short episodes of sickness absence strengthened and associations with long episodes weakened, however, significance was lost for both types of sickness absence. Palliative avoidant coping was not associated with sickness absence among female hospital nurses.
Conclusion: Problem-solving coping and social coping styles were associated with less sickness absence among female nurses working in hospital care. Nurse managers may use this knowledge and reduce sickness absence and understaffing by stimulating problem-solving strategies and social support within nursing teams.
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