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Self-reported exhaustion: a possible indicator of reduced work ability and increased risk of sickness absence among human service workers

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The aim of this study was to assess the construct and predictive validity of a new instrument for self-rating of stress-related Exhaustion Disorder (s-ED).


Public healthcare workers and social insurance officers, 85% females, were included (N = 2,683) in a longitudinal study. The s-ED instrument, based on clinical criteria for Exhaustion Disorder, was used at baseline to classify participants into three categories: non-s-ED, light/moderate s-ED and pronounced s-ED. Other assessments include burnout, anxiety, depression and work ability. Sick leave at follow-up after 2 years was defined as 14 days of ongoing sick leave (SA14) or a period of 60 days of sick leave during the last 12 months (SA60). Associations at baseline were expressed as prevalence ratios, and adjusted relative risks (RR) were calculated using Cox regression.


At baseline, 16% reported s-ED. Scores of depression, anxiety and burnout and the rate of poor work ability increased with increasing severity of s-ED. Self-reported exhaustion at baseline increased the risk of reporting sickness absence at follow-up; pronounced s-ED RR 2.7; CI 1.8–4.0 for SA14 and RR 3.4; CI 2.3–5.2 for SA60.


Self-rated ED corresponded well to established scales for mental health, indicating sufficient construct validity. Individuals reporting s-ED at baseline were more likely to report sickness absence at follow-up, confirming its predictive properties. The s-ED instrument may be a useful tool for occupational health services in identifying human service workers at risk of having or developing a potentially disabling stress-related mental illness.

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This study was supported by a grant from the Swedish government.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to K. Glise.

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Glise, K., Hadzibajramovic, E., Jonsdottir, I.H. et al. Self-reported exhaustion: a possible indicator of reduced work ability and increased risk of sickness absence among human service workers. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 83, 511–520 (2010).

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