Work-unit social capital and long-term sickness absence: a prospective cohort study of 32 053 hospital employees

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Eszter Török, Alice Jessie Clark, Johan Høy Jensen, Theis Lange, Jens Peter Bonde, Jakob Bue Bjorner, Reiner Rugulies, Ulla Arthur Hvidtfeldt, Åse Marie Hansen, Annette Kjær Ersbøll, Naja Hulvej Rod

OBJECTIVE: There is a lack of studies investigating social capital at the workplace level in small and relatively homogeneous work-units. The aim of the study was to investigate whether work-unit social capital predicts a lower risk of individual long-term sickness absence among Danish hospital employees followed prospectively for 1 year.

METHODS: This study is based on the Well-being in HospitAL Employees cohort. The study sample consisted of 32 053 individuals nested within 2182 work-units in the Capital Region of Denmark. Work-unit social capital was measured with an eight-item scale covering elements of trust, justice and collaboration between employees and leaders. Social capital at the work-unit level was computed as the aggregated mean of individual-level social capital within each work-unit. Data on long-term sickness absence were retrieved from the employers' payroll system and were operationalised as ≥29 consecutive days of sickness absence. We used a 12-point difference in social capital as the metric in our analyses and conducted two-level hierarchical logistic regression analysis. Adjustments were made for sex, age, seniority, occupational group and part-time work at the individual level, and work-unit size, the proportion of female employees and the proportion of part-time work at the work-unit level.

RESULTS: The OR for long-term sickness absence associated with a 12-point higher work-unit social capital was 0.73 (95% CI 0.68 to 0.78). Further, we found an association between higher work-unit social capital and lower long-term sickness absence across quartiles of social capital: compared with the lowest quartile, the OR for long-term sickness absence in the highest quartile was 0.51 (95% CI 0.44 to 0.60).

CONCLUSION: Our study provides support for work-unit social capital being a protective factor for individual long-term sickness absence among hospital employees in the Capital Region of Denmark.

Original languageEnglish
JournalOccupational and Environmental Medicine
Pages (from-to)623-629
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 2018

ID: 197762557