Work strain in midlife and 28-year work ability trajectories

Scand J Work Environ Health. 2011 Nov;37(6):455-63. doi: 10.5271/sjweh.3177. Epub 2011 Jun 21.


Objectives: We investigated the 28-year development trajectories of work ability among initially middle-aged male and female municipal employees and the association of perceived mental and physical work strain in midlife by work ability trajectory groups.

Methods: The baseline data of the Finnish longitudinal study of municipal employees (FLAME) were collected in 1981 (N=6257) with follow-ups in 1985, 1992, 1997, and 2009. Work ability was assessed in all the waves as present perceived work ability relative to lifetime best. Altogether, N=2690 had work ability data in 1981 and 2009, and at least for one wave in between these years, and were included in group-based semi-parametric mixture modeling trajectory analyses. Baseline differences in mental and physical work strain according to the work ability trajectories were assessed with MANCOVA (multivariate analysis of covariance).

Results: A five-group work ability trajectory model was identified for men and a four-group model for women. For the majority, a linear decline from excellent to moderate or moderate to poor work ability was observed while non-linear trajectories with sudden collapse and, in some cases, modest subsequent recovery of work ability were also observed. Individuals who maintained their work ability on an excellent-to-moderate level throughout the follow-up more often reported low mental and physical work strain in midlife.

Conclusions: A substantial proportion of individuals seem to maintain their work ability on a moderate level from midlife to old age. Work strain may have far-reaching negative effects on individuals' work ability from midlife to old age, warranting vigilance in maintaining and promoting work ability throughout the lifespan.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Burnout, Professional*
  • Employment*
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged