IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Mental health and productivity at work: Does what you do matter?


  • Bubonya, Melisa
  • Cobb-Clark, Deborah A.
  • Wooden, Mark


Much of the economic cost of mental illness stems from workers’ reduced productivity. Using nationally representative panel data we analyze the links between mental health and two alternative workplace productivity measures – absenteeism and presenteeism (i.e., lower productivity while attending work) – explicitly allowing these relationships to be moderated by the nature of the job itself. We find that absence rates are approximately five percent higher among workers who report being in poor mental health. Moreover, job conditions are related to both presenteeism and absenteeism even after accounting for workers’ self-reported mental health status. Job conditions are relatively more important in understanding diminished productivity at work if workers are in good rather than poor mental health. The effects of job complexity and stress on absenteeism do not depend on workers’ mental health, while job security and control moderate the effect of mental illness on absence days.

Suggested Citation

  • Bubonya, Melisa & Cobb-Clark, Deborah A. & Wooden, Mark, 2017. "Mental health and productivity at work: Does what you do matter?," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(C), pages 150-165.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:labeco:v:46:y:2017:i:c:p:150-165
    DOI: 10.1016/j.labeco.2017.05.001

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version below or search for a different version of it.

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Petri Böckerman & Pekka Ilmakunnas, 2012. "The Job Satisfaction-Productivity Nexus: A Study Using Matched Survey and Register Data," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 65(2), pages 244-262, April.
    2. Verbeek, Marno & Nijman, Theo, 1992. "Testing for Selectivity Bias in Panel Data Models," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 33(3), pages 681-703, August.
    3. Kristensen, Tage S., 1991. "Sickness absence and work strain among Danish slaughterhouse workers: An analysis of absence from work regarded as coping behaviour," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 15-27, January.
    4. Lundborg, Petter & Andersson, Henrik, 2008. "Gender, risk perceptions, and smoking behavior," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(5), pages 1299-1311, September.
    5. Johansson, Gun & Lundberg, Ingvar, 2004. "Adjustment latitude and attendance requirements as determinants of sickness absence or attendance. Empirical tests of the illness flexibility model," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 58(10), pages 1857-1868, May.
    6. Hansen, Claus D. & Andersen, Johan H., 2008. "Going ill to work - What personal circumstances, attitudes and work-related factors are associated with sickness presenteeism?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 67(6), pages 956-964, September.
    7. Daniel Arnold, 2016. "Determinants of the Annual Duration of Sickness Presenteeism: Empirical Evidence from European Data," LABOUR, CEIS, vol. 30(2), pages 198-212, June.
    8. Monojit Chatterji & Colin J. Tilley, 2002. "Sickness, absenteeism, presenteeism, and sick pay," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 54(4), pages 669-687, October.
    9. Boris HirschBy & Daniel S. J. Lechmann & Claus Schnabel, 2017. "Coming to work while sick: an economic theory of presenteeism with an application to German data," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(4), pages 1010-1031.
    10. Eriksen, Tine Louise Mundbjerg & Hogh, Annie & Hansen, Åse Marie, 2016. "Long-term Consequences of Workplace Bullying on Sickness Absence," IZA Discussion Papers 10101, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    11. Natasha Caverley & J. Barton Cunningham & James N. MacGregor, 2007. "Sickness Presenteeism, Sickness Absenteeism, and Health Following Restructuring in a Public Service Organization," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 44(2), pages 304-319, March.
    12. Hausman, Jerry & Hall, Bronwyn H & Griliches, Zvi, 1984. "Econometric Models for Count Data with an Application to the Patents-R&D Relationship," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(4), pages 909-938, July.
    13. Marcotte, Dave E. & Wilcox-Gök, Virginia, 2001. "Estimating the employment and earnings costs of mental illness: recent developments in the United States," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 21-27, July.
    14. Johnson, J.V. & Hall, E.M., 1988. "Job strain, work place social support, and cardiovascular disease: A cross-sectional study of random sample of the Swedish Working Population," American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, vol. 78(10), pages 1336-1342.
    15. Paul Frijters & David W. Johnston & Michael A. Shields, 2014. "The Effect Of Mental Health On Employment: Evidence From Australian Panel Data," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 23(9), pages 1058-1071, September.
    16. Mundlak, Yair, 1978. "On the Pooling of Time Series and Cross Section Data," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 46(1), pages 69-85, January.
    17. Mundbjerg Eriksen, Tine L. & Hogh, Annie & Hansen, Åse Marie, 2016. "Long-term consequences of workplace bullying on sickness absence," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 129-150.
    18. S Brown & J G Sessions, 2004. "Absenteeism, Presenteeism, and Shirking," Economic Issues Journal Articles, Economic Issues, vol. 9(1), pages 15-23, March.
    19. Daniel Arnold & Marco de Pinto, 2015. "How are Work-related Characteristics Linked to Sickness Absence and Presenteeism? - Theory and Data -," IAAEU Discussion Papers 201511, Institute of Labour Law and Industrial Relations in the European Union (IAAEU).
    20. Isabelle Niedhammer & Jean-François Chastang & Hélène Sultan-Taïeb & Greet Vermeylen & Agnès Parent-Thirion, 2013. "Psychosocial work factors and sickness absence in 31 countries in Europe," Post-Print halshs-01228084, HAL.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. IPA’s weekly links
      by Jeff Mosenkis (IPA) in Chris Blattman on 2019-01-04 18:40:27


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Janisch, Laura M., 2017. "Mental health assimilation of Australian immigrants," Ruhr Economic Papers 728, RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.
    2. Singhal, Saurabh, 2019. "Early life shocks and mental health: The long-term effect of war in Vietnam," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 141(C).
    3. INUI Tomohiko & KAWAKAMI Atsushi & MA Xin Xin & ZHAO Meng, 2019. "Does Mental Health Affect Labor Market Outcomes? Evidence from a National Representative Survey in Japan," Discussion papers 19061, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
    4. Mousteri, Victoria & Daly, Michael & Delaney, Liam & Tynelius, Per & Rasmussen, Finn, 2019. "Adolescent mental health and unemployment over the lifespan: Population evidence from Sweden," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 222(C), pages 305-314.
    5. Carrino, Ludovico & Glaser, Karen & Avendano, Mauricio, 2018. "Later Pension, Poorer Health? Evidence from the New State Pension Age in the UK," MPRA Paper 87575, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Russell, Helen & Maître, Bertrand & Watson, Dorothy & Fahey, Éamonn, 2018. "Job Stress and working conditions: Ireland in comparative perspective — An analysis of the European Working Conditions Survey," Research Series, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), number RS84.
    7. Bôckerman, Rikhard Petri & Haapanen, Mika & Jepsen, Christopher & Roulet, Alexandra, 2019. "School Tracking and Mental Health," CEPR Discussion Papers 14086, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    8. Bubonya, Melisa & Cobb-Clark, Deborah A. & Ribar, David C., 2017. "The Bilateral Relationship between Depressive Symptoms and Employment Status," IZA Discussion Papers 10653, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    9. Saurabh Singhal, 2018. "Early life shocks and mental health: The long-term effect of war in Vietnam," WIDER Working Paper Series 65, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    10. Young-Il Kim & Dongyoung Kim, 2016. "Mental Health Cost Of Terrorism: Study Of The Charlie Hebdo Attack In Paris," Working Papers 1613, Research Institute for Market Economy, Sogang University.
    11. Mendolia, Silvia & McNamee, Paul & Yerokhin, Oleg, 2018. "The Transmission of Mental Health within Households: Does One Partner's Mental Health Influence the Other Partner's Life Satisfaction?," IZA Discussion Papers 11431, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    12. Bubonya, Melisa & Cobb-Clark, Deborah A. & Ribar, David C., 2019. "The reciprocal relationship between depressive symptoms and employment status," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 35(C), pages 96-106.
    13. Dahmann, Sarah C. & Schnitzlein, Daniel D., 2019. "No evidence for a protective effect of education on mental health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 241(C).

    More about this item


    Mental health; Presenteeism; Absenteeism; Work productivity;

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:labeco:v:46:y:2017:i:c:p:150-165. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Haili He). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.