Sickness absence and psychosocial work characteristics – how effective are interventions?

It has almost been an article of faith for some that intervening to reduce stress at the group level is as important, if not more important than seeking to improve the coping capacity of the individual.  A strong recent study from Germany sheds interesting light on the issue.

Fischer and colleagues from the University of Heidelberg undertook a prospective study in multiple workplaces to estimate the potential reduction in sickness absence attributable to optimising group level psychosocial characteristics in the German automobile industry.  The tested a model of 7 work characteristics (cognitive stress perception, meaning of work, commitment to the workplace, quality of leadership, predictability, possibilities for development and work life conflict) and their relationship to future levels of sickness absence and found that interventions to improve these characteristics were as effectives as interventions to target individual behaviour or medical problems. 

Though this finding is provocative in that psychosocial, work characteristics are perhaps not targeted as often as other, more traditional factors.  More research in other sectors may be needed to generalise these findings, but they do open a line of intervention that has hitherto been neglected.

Fischer, J.E., Genser, B., Nauroth, P. et al. Estimating the potential reduction in future sickness absence from optimizing group-level psychosocial work characteristics: a prospective, multicenter cohort study in German industrial settings. J Occup Med Toxicol 15, 33 (2020).