Attending work or not when sick – what makes the decision? A qualitative study among car mechanics
This study explores the decision of 33 men and women to be sick-listed from work for neck pain or low-back pain. Qualitative interviews with the subjects, who lived in a city or a sparsely populated area of Sweden, were tape-recorded, transcribed and analysed in the interpretive tradition by the three authors. New, intense and threatening pain quickly made persons report sick. For other pain, sickness absence, its timing and duration, were negotiated on the basis of the subjects' self-image, work-duty norms, organisational and extra-organisational work factors. Thirty-one people aimed to return to work, but spine-related pain was a hindrance. Five strategies to avoid, delay or shorten sickness absence were identified. Concepts of the illness flexibility model well described how the workers balanced the factors driving them from work and those forcing them or attracting them to remain. The conclusion is that reporting sick is neither undertaken lightly nor for short-term reasons only. Instead, personal history and anticipated future, spine-related pain, workplace and labour market factors are also important considerations.