Gender Differences in Work Modifications and Changed Job Characteristics During the Return-To-Work Process: A Prospective Cohort Study

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To describe gender differences in work modifications and changed job characteristics during return-to-work after sickness absence.


A 13 month prospective cohort study was performed among 119 employees (54 women and 65 men) who had reported sick for more than 1 month due to mental or musculoskeletal disorders. Men and women were of comparable ages and educational levels, worked in similar sectors, at corresponding functional levels, and were experiencing the same types of health disorders. They were interviewed bi-monthly. Work modifications and job characteristics were assessed at return-to-work. Job characteristics were also assessed upon the employee's inclusion in the study.


Work modifications occurred in 77.4% of the return-to-work attempts (no gender differences); reduced working hours, reduced work pace, or task reassignments were most frequent. Compared to men, reduced hours and pace were more often used for women between 12 and 20 weeks of absence (P > 0.001 and 0.01 < P < 0.001 respectively) and reduced hours also during the whole period (0.01 < P < 0.001). Applying reduced hours related to type of disorder in men and applying different time-schedules in women. Upon return to work both women and men reported increased job autonomy and emotional demands (P < 0.001); women reported more job satisfaction (P < 0.001).


Work modifications were widely applied during the return-to-work process and predominantly aimed at reduction of pressure at work. Women had a few more work modifications. The marginal gender differences may be due to male and female respondents having similar characteristics. Upon return to work some job characteristics improved.

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