The effect of mental and physical health problems on sickness absence

A packet of red pills.

Bryan ML, Bryce AM, Roberts J. The effect of mental and physical health problems on sickness absence. European Journal of Health Economics 22, 1519–1533 (2021).

Absenteeism is an important feature of the labour market, imposing significant costs on employers and the economy as a whole. This paper uses panel data methods with nationally representative data from the UK Labour Force Survey to investigate how the onset of, and recovery from, different physical and mental health conditions affects absence rates among prime age workers. We also consider how these effects vary in different types of job.

This is the first study to address this issue explicitly for the UK. A cross-sectional analysis reveals that people with a chronic health condition are more likely to be absent from work, while from a longitudinal perspective we find that the onset of chronic health conditions predicts a higher probability of having absence in a given week but has no effect on longer term absence. Some types of health condition are much more associated with absenteeism than others, with progressive illnesses and common mental disorders having the largest effect.

Overall, having a mental health condition is much more predictive of both short term and longer term absence than having a physical health condition. The extent to which changes in health status affect absenteeism is also found to vary across different types of job.


Labour Force and Annual Population Surveys User Conference 2019. Lift, Islington London 27 November 2019

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