University of Oulu

Punakallio, A., Lusa, S., Ala-Mursula, L. et al. Int Arch Occup Environ Health (2019) 92: 371.

Personal meaning of work and perceived work ability among middle-aged workers with physically strenuous work : a Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1966 study

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Author: Punakallio, Anne1; Lusa, Sirpa1; Ala-Mursula, Leena2;
Organizations: 1Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Työterveyslaitos, Helsinki, Finland
2Center for Life Course Health Research, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
3Medical Research Center Oulu, Oulu University Hospital and University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2019
Publish Date: 2019-06-28


Purpose: To investigate the association between personal meaning of work and perceived work ability among middle-aged workers with physically strenuous or light work. We evaluated the course of perceived work ability from 31 to 46 years and examined the possible differences in the association between personal meaning of work and perceived work ability at the age of 46 depending on physical workload.

Methods: The study population consisted of participants of the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1966 (n = 4420). Data were collected through questionnaires at 31 and 46 years. The main outcome was perceived work ability (0–7 = poor, 8–10 = good) and the main explanatory measures were physically strenuous work and personal meaning of work. Multivariate logistic regression analyses were adjusted for unhealthy habits, number of diseases, job strain, social support at work, employment history and gender. They were also stratified for the strenuousness of work.

Results: Perceived work ability decreased during the 15-year follow-up in both the strenuous and light work groups, and was lowest among workers with strenuous work. Perceived work ability remained poor or decreased in 22% of men and 21% of women in the strenuous work group vs. 14% and 13% in the light work group, respectively. After adjusting for confounders, the participants in both groups who reported low personal meaning of work were at approximately a twofold risk of having poor perceived work ability at 46 years compared to the participants who reported high personal meaning of work.

Conclusions: Perceived work ability was significantly lower and deteriorated more during the follow-up among participants with strenuous work. High personal meaning of work was important for good work ability, irrespective of the strenuousness of work.

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Series: International archives of occupational and environmental health
ISSN: 0340-0131
ISSN-E: 1432-1246
ISSN-L: 0340-0131
Volume: 92
Issue: 3
Pages: 371 - 381
DOI: 10.1007/s00420-019-01412-9
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 3142 Public health care science, environmental and occupational health
Funding: The study was funded by The Finnish Work Environment Fund (111252) and by the Strategic Research Council (SRC) at the Academy of Finland (303430). The data collection of the 1966 Northern Finland Birth Cohort was financially supported by the European Commission (EURO-BLCS, Framework 5 award QLG1-CT-2000-01643), the US National Institutes of Health (NIMH) (5R01MH63706:02), the EU (European Regional Development Fund), the Oulu University Hospital, and the University of Oulu.
Copyright information: © The Author(s) 2019. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.