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Soc Sci Med. 2015 May;132:95-102. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.03.023. Epub 2015 Mar 14.

Sickness and sickness absence of remaining employees in a time of economic crisis: a study among employees of municipalities in Iceland.

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School of Business and Science, University of Akureyri, Solborg v/Nordurslod, 600 Akureyri, Iceland. Electronic address:
Faculty of Social and Human Sciences, University of Iceland, Iceland. Electronic address:


This article focuses on sickness and sickness absence among employees of 20 municipalities in Iceland who remained at work after the economic crisis in October 2008. The aim was to examine the impact of economic crisis on sickness and sickness absence of "survivors" working within the educational system (primary school teachers and kindergarten teachers) and the care services (elderly care and care of disabled people) operated by the municipalities. The study was based on mixed methods research comprising a balanced panel data set and focus groups. An online survey conducted three times among 2356 employees of 20 municipalities and seven focus group interviews in two municipalities (39 participants). The generalized estimating equations (GEE) were used to analyze the quantitative data, and focused coding was used to analyze the qualitative data. The main finding showed that the economic crisis had negative health implications for the municipal employees. The negative effects grew stronger over time. Employee sickness and sickness absence increased substantially in both downsized and non-downsized workplaces. However, employees of downsized workplaces were more likely to be sick. Sickness and sickness absence were more common among younger than older employees, but no gender differences were observed. The study demonstrates the importance of protecting the health and well-being of all employees in the wake of an economic crisis, not only those who lose their jobs or work in downsized workplaces. This is important in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, but also for a significant time thereafter. This is of practical relevance for those responsible for occupational health and safety, as most Western countries periodically go through economic crises, resulting in strains on employees.


Crisis; Downsizing; Exhaustion; Gender; Iceland; Sickness; Sickness absence; Workload

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