Psychosocial work factors and sickness absence in 31 countries in Europe

Eur J Public Health. 2013 Aug;23(4):622-9. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/cks124. Epub 2012 Sep 23.


Background: The studies on the associations between psychosocial work factors and sickness absence have rarely included a large number of factors and European data. The objective was to examine the associations between a large set of psychosocial work factors following well-known and emergent concepts and sickness absence in Europe.

Methods: The study population consisted of 14,881 male and 14,799 female workers in 31 countries from the 2005 European Working Conditions Survey. Psychosocial work factors included the following: decision latitude, psychological demands, social support, physical violence, sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying, long working hours, shift and night work, job insecurity, job promotion and work-life imbalance. Covariates were as follows: age, occupation, economic activity, employee/self-employed status and physical, chemical, biological and biomechanical exposures. Statistical analysis was performed using multilevel negative binomial hurdle models to study the occurrence and duration of sickness absence.

Results: In the models, including all psychosocial work factors together and adjustment for covariates, high psychological demands, discrimination, bullying, low-job promotion and work-life imbalance for both genders and physical violence for women were observed as risk factors of the occurrence of sickness absence. Bullying and shift work increased the duration of absence among women. Bullying had the strongest association with sickness absence.

Conclusion: Various psychosocial work factors were found to be associated with sickness absence. A less conservative analysis exploring each factor separately provided a still higher number of risk factors. Preventive measures should take psychosocial work environment more comprehensively into account to reduce sickness absence and improve health at work at European level.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / psychology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Report
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Workplace / psychology*