Objective: The purpose of this study was to assess associations of self-reported work ability as measured by the Work Ability Index (WAI) with modifiable behavioral and occupational health risks, health service utilization, and intended rehabilitation and pension requests.
Design: This is a cross-sectional study of a random sample of German employees aged 40-54 yrs on sickness benefits in 2012 (trial registration: DRKS00004824).
Results: In total, 1312 male and 1502 female employees were included in the analyses. Low WAI scores (i.e., <37 points) were associated with a higher prevalence of occupational and behavioral health risks; a higher likelihood of frequent visits to general, somatic, and psychologic specialists as well as hospital stays; and four to six times higher risks of intended rehabilitation and pension requests. A two-item version of the WAI was as strongly associated with intended rehabilitation and pension requests as the total score.
Conclusions: This study indicates that the WAI is a sensitive screening tool to identify workers on sick leave with a probable need for rehabilitation. The WAI could support the assessment of need for rehabilitation by occupational health services in return-to-work strategies, which include the opportunity to access multiprofessional rehabilitation.