Association of returning to work with better health in working-aged adults: a systematic review

Am J Public Health. 2012 Mar;102(3):541-56. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300401. Epub 2012 Jan 19.


Objectives: We systematically reviewed the literature on the impact of returning to work on health among working-aged adults.

Methods: We searched 6 electronic databases in 2005. We selected longitudinal studies that documented a transition from unemployment to employment and included a comparison group. Two reviewers independently appraised the retrieved literature for potential relevance and methodological quality.

Results: Eighteen studies met our inclusion criteria, including 1 randomized controlled trial. Fifteen studies revealed a beneficial effect of returning to work on health, either demonstrating a significant improvement in health after reemployment or a significant decline in health attributed to continued unemployment. We also found evidence for health selection, suggesting that poor health interferes with people's ability to go back to work. Some evidence suggested that earlier reemployment may be associated with better health.

Conclusions: Beneficial health effects of returning to work have been documented in a variety of populations, times, and settings. Return-to-work programs may improve not only financial situations but also health.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Factual
  • Employment*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Rehabilitation*
  • Sick Leave*
  • Treatment Outcome