Subjective cognitive complaints and sickness absence: A prospective cohort study of 7059 employees in primarily knowledge-intensive occupations

Prev Med Rep. 2020 Apr 22;19:101103. doi: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2020.101103. eCollection 2020 Sep.


Knowledge-intensive work requires capabilities like monitoring multiple sources of information, prioritizing between competing tasks, switching between tasks, and resisting distraction from the primary task(s). We assessed whether subjective cognitive complaints (SCC), presenting as self-rated problems with difficulties of concentration, memory, clear thinking and decision making predict sickness absence (SA) in knowledge-intensive occupations. We combined SCC questionnaire results with reliable registry data on SA of 7743 professional/managerial employees (47% female). We excluded employees who were not active in working life, on long-term SA, and those on a work disability benefit at baseline. The exposure variable was the presence of SCC. Age and SA before the questionnaire as a proxy measure of general health were treated as confounders and the analyses were conducted by gender. The outcome measure was the accumulated SA days during a 12-month follow-up. We used a hurdle model to analyse the SA data. SCC predicted the number of SA days during the 12-month follow-up. The ratio of the means of SA days was higher than 2.8 as compared to the reference group, irrespective of gender, with the lowest limit of 95% confidence interval 2.2. In the Hurdle model, SCC, SA days prior to the questionnaire, and age were additive predictors of the likelihood of SA and accumulated SA days, if any. Subjective cognitive complaints predict sickness absence in knowledge-intensive occupations, irrespective of gender, age, or general health. This finding has implications for supporting work ability (productivity) among employees with cognitively demanding tasks.

Keywords: Occupational healthcare; Register data; Screening questionnaire; Self-reported data; Sickness allowance; Subjective cognitive complaints.