When Issues at Home Interfere with Work, Sick Days Increase

Aug. 13, 2009
Employees who feel that issues with home and family life are interfering with their work take more sick leave, more often, according to a study appearing in the August Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Led by Els Clays, Ph.D., of Ghent University in Belgium, the researchers assessed different types of work-family conflict in a sample of nearly 3,000 workers. They found that absenteeism increased for employees who reported problems with home life interfering with work – for example, those who agreed with the statement, "Because of the demands I face at home, I am tired at work."

These workers with high "home-work interference" were more likely to have at least three sick leave episodes per year, and to take 10 or more sick days per year. The relationship remained significant after adjustment for other factors related to sick leave.

The opposite problem of work issues interfering with home life ("work-home interference") was more common, and the two types of conflict were related to each other. However, high levels of work-home interference were not related to sick leave.

Especially with the rising number of families in which both partners are employed, many people face the challenges of combining a professional career with home responsibilities. Work-family conflicts can have negative effects on both aspects of life, as well as on general health and well-being. The new study is one of the first to look at how work-family conflict affects health-related absences from work.

The results suggest that home life interfering with work specifically is related to increased sick leave. Companies looking for ways to reduce absenteeism might want to consider "family-friendly employment policies or specific strategies that enable a better harmony between private and work life, such as flexible work schedules," according to Clay and colleagues. However, more research will be needed to determine whether such policies are truly effective in reducing sick leave and other outcomes.

The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine is the officialpublication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

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