Research shows home and work problems behind long-term sick leave

Early findings of a large research project on the barriers to employees returning to work from sick leave show that the problems are primarily personal, psychological and social – rather than medical.

The findings follow research among 1,000 people nationally which is part of research at the Unum Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University led by Mansel Aylward.

The research is likely to influence the shape of future government policy as Aylward is a former chief medical adviser at the Department of Work and Pensions and architect of the Health Work and Wellbeing strategy.

The research shows that the principal negative influences on returning to work:

  • Personal and psychological problems, including the belief that stress is the cause of ill health
  • Social influences, the most important of which are lone parents, unstable relationships and rented or social housing
  • Workplace culture and organisation.

The solutions are for employers to gain the respect of staff, better job satisfaction, more understanding of health issues, positive incentives to attend work and better management of chronic health conditions.

Aylward argues that established models for reducing stress, such as increasing employees’ sense of control over their work and getting the balance of effort and reward right, have failed to reduce the perceived levels of stress. He proposed that employers and OH practitioners should focus instead on identifying those at risk, early intervention and support, and participation in vocational rehabilitation.

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