Psychosocial work environment and sickness absence among British civil servants: the Whitehall II study

Am J Public Health. 1996 Mar;86(3):332-40. doi: 10.2105/ajph.86.3.332.


Objectives: This study sought to examine the association between the psychosocial work environment and subsequent rates of sickness absence.

Methods: The analyses were based on a cohort of male and female British civil servants (n=9072). Rates of short spells (<or=7 days) and long spells (>7 days) of sickness absence were calculated for different aspects of the psychosocial work environment, as measured by self-reports and personnel managers' ratings (external assessments).

Results: Low levels of work demands, control, and support were associated with higher rates of short and long spells of absence in men and, to a lesser extent, in women. The differences were similar for the self-reports and external assessments. After adjustment for grade of employment, the differences were diminished but generally remained significant for short spells. The combination of high demands and low control was only associated with higher rates of short spells in the lower grades.

Conclusions: The psychosocial work environment predicts rates of sickness absence. Increased levels of control and support at work could have beneficial effects in terms of both improving the health and well-being of employees and increasing productivity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism*
  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • London
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Support
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workplace*