Working longer and in good health

2015 – In this PhD thesis Fenna Leijten includes six previous published articles in a theoretical framework.

Problem and research questions
This thesis focusses on the impact of work and individual factors on health and more specifically on the impact of health on productive work.
With an ageing population, increasing retirement ages, and a high prevalence of chronic health problems among older persons, it is important to understand how older workers [with health problems] can remain in productive and sustained employment. Accordingly, the following research questions were addressed in this thesis:
1. What is the influence of work-related factors and work engagement on health?
2. To what extent does health influence productive and sustained employment?
3. Do work-related factors and coping style modify the influence of health on productive and sustained employment?

Data from older (45-64 years) employees that participated in the Study on Transitions in Employment, Ability and Motivation (STREAM) were used to answer these research questions. STREAM is an observational longitudinal questionnaire study.

Key insights
– Workers with a high work engagement have a better physical and especially mental health after one year than workers with a low work engagement; the positive influence of work engagement on health is more pronounced than that of favourable work-related factors on health.
– Workers with active and non-avoidant coping styles have a better work ability than those with non-active and avoidant coping styles.
– Poor health has an adverse influence on productive and sustained employment; this influence differs between health problems, workers with psychological health problems had the greatest reduction in productive and sustained employment, this influence also differs between facets of productive and sustained employment, and is especially seen for work ability, sickness absence, and disability benefits.
– Favourable psychosocial work-related factors are beneficial for productive and sustained employment; this is especially the case among workers with chronic health problems.
– Future research should integrate quantitative and qualitative techniques when studying complex processes such as how older workers can remain in productive employment for longer and in good health. Analyses of different units should also be integrated, e.g., the individual, organisation, and social system.

– Findings from this thesis provide useful input for the development of workplace
interventions; in turn more evidence is needed on effective workplace
– Employers and employees should work together to create favourable psychosocial working conditions.
– Tailored approaches are necessary for workers with health problems; generic accommodations may not be effective. The individual’s imbalance needs to
be taken into consideration.
– As more employees will face chronic health problems at the workplace in the years to come, policies should be put in place that leave room for the flexibility necessary for favourable psychosocial work-related factors to be stimulated and for tailored accommodations to be made.

Leijten, Fenna. (2015) ‘Working longer in good health’. Rotterdam: Erasmus University, PhD Thesis. A pdf. van the thesis is attached.
Theme: Sustainable employability