Background: Participatory working time scheduling is a collaborative approach to scheduling shift work. As a potential way of improving work time control, it may provide a means to reducing sickness absence in shift work. So far, experimental and quasi-experimental studies on the effects of increased work time control on sickness absence are lacking. Objective: To investigate the effects of using digital participatory working time scheduling software on ward-level sickness absence among Finnish hospital employees. Participants and methods: This quasi-experimental study compared the amount of sickness absence in hospital wards using a participatory working time scheduling software (n=121 wards) and those continuing with traditional working time scheduling (n=117 wards) between 2014 and 2017. We used continuous panel data from 238 hospital wards with a total number of 9000 hospital employees (89% of women, primarily nursing staff). The ward-level measures consisted of number of employees, working hours, sickness absence spells per employee, and short (1–3) sickness absence days per employee. Two-way fixed effects and event study regressions with clustered standard errors were used to estimate the effect of using participatory scheduling software on sickness absence. Results: Sickness absence spells and short (1–3) sickness absence days decreased by 6% and 7%, respectively in the wards using participatory scheduling compared to those using traditional scheduling. The effect became stronger as the time measured in quarters of using the participatory working time scheduling software increased. Conclusions: The effects of using participatory working time scheduling software indicated less ward-level sickness absence measured as spells and days in comparison to continuing with traditional scheduling. The encouraging findings are relevant not only to the health care sector but also to other sectors in which irregular shift work is a necessity. This study was registered with ClinicalTrials.gov (NCT02775331) before starting the intervention phase.
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