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Attending work or not when sick – what makes the decision? A qualitative study among car mechanics

Tone Morken12*, Inger Haukenes2 and Liv Heide Magnussen23

Author Affiliations

1 Uni Health, Uni Research, Bergen, Norway

2 Department of Public Health and Primary Health Care, University of Bergen, Kalfarveien 31, Bergen, N-5018, Norway

3 Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Bergen University College, Bergen, Norway

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:813  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-813

Published: 21 September 2012



High prevalence of sickness absence in countries with generous welfare schemes has generated debates on mechanisms that may influence workers’ decisions about calling in sick for work. Little is known about the themes at stake during the decision-making process for reaching the choice of absence or attendance when feeling ill. The aim of the study was to examine decisions of absence versus attendance among car mechanics when feeling ill.


Interviews with 263 male car mechanics from 19 companies were used for the study, analysed by systematic text condensation and presented as descriptions and quotations of experiences and opinions.


Three major themes were at stake during the decision-making process: 1) Experienced degree of illness, focusing on the present health condition and indicators of whether you are fit for work or not; 2) daily life habits, where attending work was a daily routine, often learned from childhood; 3) the importance of the job, with focus on the importance of work, colleagues, customers and work environment.


The car mechanics expressed a strong will to attend work in spite of illness. Knowledge about attitudes and dilemmas in reaching the decision regarding sickness absence or sickness attendance is useful in the prevention of sickness absence.

Sick leave; Work environment; Decision-making