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J Epidemiol Community Health 54:502-509 doi:10.1136/jech.54.7.502
  • Research report

Sick but yet at work. An empirical study of sickness presenteeism

  1. Gunnar Aronsson,
  2. Klas Gustafsson,
  3. Margareta Dallner
  1. Program: Health and development in the new working life, National Institute for Working Life, S-112 79 Stockholm, Sweden
  1. Dr Aronsson (aronsson{at}niwl.se)
  • Accepted 22 February 2000

Abstract

STUDY OBJECTIVE The study is an empirical investigation of sickness presenteeism in relation to occupation, irreplaceability, ill health, sickness absenteeism, personal income, and slimmed down organisation.

DESIGN Cross sectional design.

SETTING Swedish workforce.

PARTICIPANTS The study group comprised a stratified subsample of 3801 employed persons working at the time of the survey, interviewed by telephone in conjunction with Statistics Sweden's labour market surveys of August and September 1997. The response rate was 87 per cent.

MAIN RESULTS A third of the persons in the total material reported that they had gone to work two or more times during the preceding year despite the feeling that, in the light of their perceived state of health, they should have taken sick leave. The highest presenteeism is largely to be found in the care and welfare and education sectors (nursing and midwifery professionals, registered nurses, nursing home aides, compulsory school teachers and preschool/primary educationalists. All these groups work in sectors that have faced personnel cutbacks during the 1990s). The risk ratio (odds ratio (OR)) for sickness presenteeism in the group that has to re-do work remaining after a period of absence through sickness is 2.29 (95% CI 1.79, 2.93). High proportions of persons with upper back/neck pain and fatigue/slightly depressed are among those with high presenteeism (p< 0.001). Occupational groups with high sickness presenteeism show high sickness absenteeism (ρ = 0.38; p<.01) and the hypothesis on level of pay and sickness presenteeism is also supported (ρ = −0.22; p<0.01).

CONCLUSIONS Members of occupational groups whose everyday tasks are to provide care or welfare services, or teach or instruct, have a substantially increased risk of being at work when sick. The link between difficulties in replacement or finding a stand in and sickness presenteeism is confirmed by study results. The categories with high sickness presenteeism experience symptoms more often than those without presenteeism. The most common combination is low monthly income, high sickness absenteeism and high sickness presenteeism.

Footnotes

  • Funding: this study was financially supported by the Swedish Council for Work Life Research.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.