Staff who take extended sick leave more likely to die

Employees who take extended sick leave are more likely to die than healthier co-workers, a study has found.

Researchers at the University College London studied 6,500 civil servants and found that those who had taken a period of sick leave for longer than seven days had a 66% higher risk of an early death.

They also found that those who had taken long spells of sick leave for psychiatric reasons such as depression were twice as likely to die as employees who did not take long periods of sick leave.

Study leader Jenny Head said it was an “unexpected finding”.

“We didn’t study the reason, but it might be people who tend to be depressed might be less likely to seek help from a doctor, or being prone to depression could affect your cancer prognosis, or depression might affect adherence to treatment,” Head said.

“It would be useful for this information to be collected because we could identify groups with a high risk of serious health problems”.

Sickness records of employees who worked in Whitehall between 1985 and 1988 showed nearly 300 people died over the next two decades. The 30% of people who had one absence of at least seven days off work were 66% more likely to suffer a premature death than those without any periods of sick leave.

The highest mortality risk was seen in those who had been off work with heart disease, stroke or related conditions, who had more than four times the risk of death than those who had no long sickness absences.

Last month, a survey found nearly three-quarters (72%) of UK employees go to work despite feeling so ill they could legitimately stay at home.

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