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27.02.2019 | Original Article | Ausgabe 6/2019 Open Access

International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health 6/2019

Perceived stress and sickness absence: a prospective study of 17,795 employees in Denmark

International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health > Ausgabe 6/2019
Sannie Vester Thorsen, Jacob Pedersen, Mari-Ann Flyvholm, Jesper Kristiansen, Reiner Rugulies, Ute Bültmann
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The aims were to examine (1) the prospective association between perceived stress and sickness absence, and if this association (2) differed by sex, and (3) was stronger when only long-term sickness absence (≥ 31 days) instead of all-length sickness absence (≥ 1 day) was included. Moreover, different cut-points for the length of the sickness absence periods were applied.


We followed respondents (10,634 women and 7161 men) from the ‘Work Environment and Health in Denmark’ 2014-survey for up to 18 months in the ‘Register of Work Absences’ from Statistics Denmark. Perceived stress was measured by a single question: “In the last 2 weeks, how often have you felt stressed?” We used Cox-regression with repeated events, adjusted for age, sector, education, and previous sickness absence.


The hazard ratio (HR) for all-length sickness absence (≥ 1 day) for “Often/Always” stress compared to “Seldom/Never” stress was statistically significant among both men (HR = 1.25 [1.13–1.38]) and women (HR = 1.43 [1.34–1.51]). The HR was statistically significant for women (HR = 2.26 [1.89–2.70]), but not for men (HR = 1.22 [0.86–1.73]), when the analyses were restricted to long-term sickness absence (≥ 31 days). The sex-difference was statistically significant. Additional analyses with cut-points at ≥ 2, ≥ 4, ≥ 6, ≥ 8, ≥ 11, ≥ 15, ≥ 20, and ≥ 25 sickness absence days showed that among women, the HR increased gradually with increasing lengths of the sickness absence periods.


The prospective association of perceived stress with risk of sickness absence was stronger among women than men. Among women, perceived stress was more strongly associated with long-term sickness absence than with all-length sickness absence.

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