Purpose: To identify health-, personal- and work-related factors predictive of return to work (RTW) in employees sick-listed due to common mental health problems, such as, stress, depression, burnout, and anxiety.
Methods: We distributed a baseline questionnaire to employees applying for sickness absence benefits at a large Danish welfare Department (n = 721). A total of 298 employees returned the questionnaire containing information on possible predictors of RTW. We followed up all baseline responders for a maximum of one year in a national registry of social transfer payments, including sickness absence benefits.
Results: At baseline, about 9% of respondents had quit their job, 10% were dismissed and the remaining 82% were still working for the same employer. The mean time to RTW, measured from the first day of absence, was 25 weeks (median = 21) and at the end of follow-up (52 weeks) 85% had returned to work. In the fitted Cox model we found that fulfilling the DSM-IV criteria for depression predicted a longer time to RTW (HR: 0.61, CI: 0.45-0.84), whereas a better self-rated health predicted a shorter time to RTW (HR: 1.18, CI: 1.03-1.34). Employees working in the municipal (HR: 0.62, CI: 0.41-0.94) and private sector (HR: 0.65, CI: 0.44-0.96) returned to work slower compared to employees working in the governmental sector. Gender, education, cohabitation, size of workplace, low-back and upper-neck pain and employment at baseline did not predict RTW.
Conclusion: Our results indicate that time to RTW is determined by both health- and work-related factors.