Sick leave and fear of losing one’s job

A survey conducted in 2009 by the Swedish Association of Occupational Health and the Swedish Extended Performance Satisfaction Index investigates employees’ attitudes towards future employment from a health perspective. The survey concludes that 7.8% of all employees are worried about losing their job within the next two years due to poor health. For employees on long-term sick leave, the proportion is 37.3%.

About the survey

The Swedish Association of Occupational Health (Föreningen Svensk Företagshälsovård, FSF) is an industry-wide organisation that aims to highlight and improve conditions associated with the working environment, rehabilitation and occupational health. It also supplies occupational health services at 475 company health centres throughout Sweden. In cooperation with the Swedish Extended Performance Satisfaction Index (Svenskt Kvalitetsindex, SKI), FSF conducts an annual survey called the health-at-work barometer (Jobbhälsobarometern). This survey investigates the link between employees’ attitudes towards future employment and factors such as age, education, the working environment, exercise, illness and motivation.

The survey consists of telephone interviews with 3,736 employees aged 20–65 years, all of whom are working at least half-time under normal circumstances. The question used to identify their attitudes is the following: ‘Considering the state of your health, do you think that you will be working within your current occupation in two years’ time?’ Answers are graded on a scale from 0 to 100, where values in the range of 0 to 60 represent ‘negative’ answers and values between 75 and 100 are labelled ‘positive’. The answers are then analysed from the perspective of age, education and other factors.

Survey results

Poor health increases fear of job loss

The results for 2009 (in Swedish, 341Kb PDF) show that 7.8% of all employees fear job loss within the next two years as a result of poor health (Figure 1). In absolute numbers, this corresponds to 340,000 employees in Sweden. During the two preceding years, 2007 and 2008, the numbers were 7.5% and 8% respectively.

Figure 2 shows that the number of employees who fear job loss increases with the number of days that they have been on sick leave. At zero days of sick leave, 5.3% fear future job loss. In contrast, 37.3% of employees on long-term sick leave of 90 days or more express such concerns.

Employees on sick leave fearing job loss within next two years as a result of poor health, by length of sick leave (%)

Employees on sick leave fearing job loss within next two years as a result of poor health, by length of sick leave (%)

Other factors impacting on fear of job loss

In addition to sick leave, the survey concludes that factors such as older age, low education, little exercise, a poor working environment and low motivation exacerbate a fear of job loss. Employees working at the age of 56 years or older are, according to the survey, most pessimistic (14.1%) about their future employment. For employees aged 31–40 years, the number is 4.4%. The results further conclude that fear of job loss due to poor health decreases as the level of education increases: 6.5% of employees who have studied at university level fear job loss, while 16.4% of employees with only a primary school education express such concerns.

In addition, a good working environment and high level of motivation reduce these concerns. Among employees who state that they have a good workplace environment, 4.4% fear job loss. By way of contrast, 14.1% of the respondents who state that they have a bad workplace environment fear for their future employment. Among motivated employees, 4.5% express concerns, while 21.5% of poorly motivated workers state that they fear future job loss due to poor health.

Finally, a difference emerges between workers who exercise and those who do not. Some 10.3% of those who are not exercising fear job loss; the proportion is about 7% for those who exercise at least once a week.

Commentary

Over the past year, a debate has arisen in Sweden about the new regulations in the social security system. The periods of time during which a person can be on sick leave have been shortened and several check-ups have been put in place (SE1001029I). The government argues that this is necessary to increase incentives for people to work and to reduce the number of unnecessary social welfare payments. Others, such as the social democratic opposition party and several major trade unions, consider that the government is chasing its sick citizens for all the wrong reasons and that this in fact increases social inequality.

The health-at-work barometer perhaps highlights the concerns that many have about unemployment and the new social security regulations. The study reveals the increased concerns among employees who have been on long-term sick leave. As noted, 37.3% of those who have been on sick leave for more than 90 days fear job loss within the next two years.

Mats Kullander and Oskar Eklund, Oxford Research

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