Behavioral Determinants as Predictors of Return to Work After Long-Term Sickness Absence: An Application of the Theory of Planned Behavior

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The aim of this prospective, longitudinal cohort study was to analyze the association between the three behavioral determinants of the theory of planned behavior (TPB) model—attitude, subjective norm and self-efficacy—and the time to return-to-work (RTW) in employees on long-term sick leave.


The study was based on a sample of 926 employees on sickness absence (maximum duration of 12 weeks). The employees filled out a baseline questionnaire and were subsequently followed until the tenth month after listing sick. The TPB-determinants were measured at baseline. Work attitude was measured with a Dutch language version of the Work Involvement Scale. Subjective norm was measured with a self-structured scale reflecting a person's perception of social support and social pressure. Self-efficacy was measured with the three subscales of a standardised Dutch version of the general self-efficacy scale (ALCOS): willingness to expend effort in completing the behavior, persistence in the face of adversity, and willingness to initiate behavior. Cox proportional hazards regression analyses were used to identify behavioral determinants of the time to RTW.


Median time to RTW was 160 days. In the univariate analysis, all potential prognostic factors were significantly associated (P < 0.15) with time to RTW: work attitude, social support, and the three subscales of self-efficacy. The final multivariate model with time to RTW as the predicted outcome included work attitude, social support and willingness to expend effort in completing the behavior as significant predictive factors.


This prospective, longitudinal cohort-study showed that work attitude, social support and willingness to expend effort in completing the behavior are significantly associated with a shorter time to RTW in employees on long-term sickness absence. This provides suggestive evidence for the relevance of behavioral characteristics in the prediction of duration of sickness absence. It may be a promising approach to address the behavioral determinants in the development of interventions focusing on RTW in employees on long-term sick leave.

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