Can favourable psychosocial working conditions in midlife moderate the risk of work exit for chronically ill workers? A 20-year follow-up of the Whitehall II study

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Abstract

Objectives

To investigate if favourable psychosocial working conditions can reduce the risk of work exit and specifically for workers with chronic disease.

Methods

Men and women (32%) aged 35–55, working and having no chronic disease at baseline of the Whitehall II study of London-based civil servants were selected (n=9040). We observed participants’ exit from work through retirement, health-related exit and unemployment, new diagnosis of chronic disease (ie, coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer) and their psychosocial working conditions in midlife. Using cause-specific Cox models, we examined the association of chronic disease and favourable psychosocial working conditions and their interaction, with the three types of work exit. We adjusted for gender, occupational grade, educational level, remaining in civil service, spouse’s employment status and mental health.

Results

Chronic disease significantly increased the risk of any type of work exit (HR 1.27) and specifically the risk of health-related exit (HR 2.42). High skill discretion in midlife reduced the risk of any type of work exit (HR 0.90), retirement (HR 0.91) and health-related exit (HR 0.68). High work social support in midlife decreased the risk of health-related exit (HR 0.79) and unemployment (HR 0.71). Favourable psychosocial working conditions in midlife did not attenuate the association between chronic disease and work exit significantly.

Conclusions

The chronically ill have increased risks of work exit, especially through health-related exit routes. Chronic disease is an obstacle to extended working lives. Favourable working conditions directly relate to reduced risks of work exit.

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