The relationship between depression symptoms, absenteeism and presenteeism

J Affect Disord. 2019 Sep 1:256:536-540. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2019.06.041. Epub 2019 Jun 30.


Background: Mental health problems are common within the working population. Depression is both highly prevalent and debilitating and is linked to increases in absenteeism and presenteeism. The use of summed depression scale scores may conceal differential impacts of depressive symptoms on absenteeism and presenteeism. We aimed to explore both the relationship between absenteeism and presenteeism and both depression severity, along with the independent contributions of different symptoms.

Methods: Participants (N = 4953) were employees recruited as part of a larger study to evaluate a mental health smartphone app and were recruited via industry partner organisations and social media. Participants completed in-app assessment which included demographic information, the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 depression tool, and items of the World Health Organization Health and Work Performance Questionnaire. The relationship between depressive symptoms, absenteeism and presenteeism was estimated using both total summed scores and individual symptoms of depression.

Results: Univariate linear regression confirmed a negative linear relationship between depression severity and presenteeism, which remained significant after controlling for age, gender, industry, and work position. Similarly, there was a statistically significant relationship between depression severity and the amount of mental health related sickness absence taken over the preceding 28 days. Johnson's relative weights analysis showed contributory differences amongst depression symptoms in relation to presenteeism and absenteeism.

Discussion: Significant relationships between depression severity and both absenteeism and presenteeism were present indicating increases in absence and decreases in performance with increasing severity. There existed differences amongst the contribution of specific symptoms of depression to both outcomes of interest. The symptoms that contribute most to absence were more behavioural in nature, whilst those contributing most to presenteeism were more cognitive. These findings have practical implications for clinicians and employers in making treatment and return-to-work decisions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism*
  • Adult
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Presenteeism*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Work Performance