Health

Work stress triggers sick days

Conflicts and stress at work may lead sick employees to take time off even if their physical ailments are minor, a new Swedish study finds.
More than half of the self-reported health problems were headaches, cold or flu. (iStock)

Conflicts and stress at work may lead sick employees to take time off even if their physical ailments are minor, a new Swedish study finds.

To try to understand why two people who are equally sick respond differently — why one calls in sick and the other heads to the office — the researchers interviewed 1,430 employees about their stress levels and problems at work before and after they got sick.

Participants were asked about their workplace experience with discrimination, bullying, sexual or other harassment, unpleasant or uncomfortable tasks, tasks for which they felt they not skilled enough or which they, for other reasons, they wish they could get out of performing, and a more stressful work situation than usual.

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The study found the likelihood employees would take sick days was 4.68 times higher when they also felt exposed to problems with colleagues and 3.63 times higher when they had problems with a superior.

"We found an increased risk of sick leave after the respondents had been exposed to problems in their relationship with a superior or colleagues in the previous two workdays," the authors concluded.

"Furthermore, respondents were more inclined to report sick on days when they expected a very stressful work situation, than on days when they did not."

The study appears in Wednesday's issue of BMC Public Health.

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