A gender perspective on sick-leave among youth; obstacles and resources for return-to-work as experienced by employees and managers

When young adults start working, they usually have a long working life ahead of them, which is why a good and healthy establishment at the beginning of working life is important. It is therefore worrying that sick leave for mental illness is a problem among young people.


Mental illness is the most common cause of long-term sick leave among young people (16-29 years) and young women have a higher risk of long-term sick leave than young men. Although we know that young and especially young women are particularly vulnerable, Swedish studies that focus on causes of sick leave due to mental illness and obstacles and resources to return to work with a gender perspective are lacking. In the GUNGA project, we intend to gain in-depth knowledge of perceived reasons why young people are at risk of sick leave due to mental illness. We will also explore perceived barriers and opportunities to return to work. The issues will be elucidated from both an employee and an employer perspective and factors related to home and working conditions as well as lifestyle are taken into account. Since we know that there are differences between women and men, we also want to understand how these differences are perceived and expressed.


The project has a qualitative research approach and the data collection primarily consists of semi-structured interviews with women and men aged 19-29 who have experience of sick leave due to mental illness. As well as interviews with managers who have experience of being the head of young employers how have been on sick leave caused by mental illness. The interviews will focus on causes of sick leave as well as perceived barriers and resources for a successful return to work. We intend to interview about 20 participants of each category.

In order to gain broad and rich data, the participants will be recruited from three different sectors; industry/construction, retail and care. The three different sectors are selected on the basis that they have a high incidence of sick leave due to mental illness and that they represent sectors that are either female or male dominated which can make visible differences due to gender.

The analyzes of the collected data will be done with content analysis and with a gender perspective, as we want to discover any differences between women's and men's experiences.


Tinnerholm Ljungberg H, Olsson C, Jensen I, Nybergh L, Björk Brämberg E (2023) Managers’ experience of causes and prevention of sick leave among young employees with Common Mental Disorders (CMDs)–A qualitative interview study with a gender perspective. PLOS ONE 18(9): e0292109. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0292109

Olsson C, Tinnerholm Ljungberg H, Björk Brämberg E, Nybergh L, Jensen I (2023) A gender perspective on perceived causes of sick leave due to common mental disorders among young Swedish employees: A qualitative interview study. PLoS ONE 18(9): e0291551. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0291551

Wallberg M, Tinnerholm Ljungberg H, Björk Brämberg E, Nybergh L, Jensen I, Olsson C (2023) Hindering and enabling factors for young employees with common mental disorder to remain at or return to work affected by the Covid-19 pandemic – a qualitative interview study with young employees and managers. PLoS ONE 18(6): e0286819. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0286819

Caroline Olsson, Helena Tinnerholm Ljungberg, Elisabeth Björk Brämberg, Irene Jensen, and Lotta Nybergh. (2021). A Gender Perspective on Sick Leave Among Young Adults – Barriers and Resources for Return to Work as Experienced by Young Employees and Managers: A Protocol for a Qualitative Study. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 20. https://doi.org/10.1177/16094069211032071.

Researchers, project time, and funding

Contributing researchers are Caroline Olsson (project manager), Helena Tinnerholm Ljungberg, Irene Jensen, Elisabeth Björk Brämberg, Lotta Nybergh, and Martina Wallberg.

The project will run for four years, from 2020-2023.

The study is funded by Forte (Projekt-ID: 2019-00883).



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Caroline Olsson

Coordinator;Postdoctoral Researcher