Worksite Health Promotion Program Reduces Absenteeism, According to Study

The health program emphasized low-pressure, low-intensity interventions—geared not only to employees' individual health risks, but also to their readiness to make lifestyle changes.

Workers participating in a "comprehensive" workplace promotion program had a one-fifth reduction in absenteeism during the first year, reports a study in the April Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

Led by Maurice A.J. Niessen of the NDDO Institute for Prevention and Early Diagnostics, Amsterdam, the researchers evaluated a Web-based worksite health promotion project at a large Dutch financial services company. The program used a "computerized knowledge-based reasoning system," which integrated the best available risk prediction equations with research-proven prevention and early diagnostic steps.

The program emphasized low-pressure, low-intensity interventions—geared not only to employees' individual health risks, but also to their readiness to make lifestyle changes. Another key feature was assessment of mental health issues leading to burnout, a major cause of work disability in the Netherlands.

Of about 11,250 employees invited, 3,900 enrolled in the program. After one year, the estimated absenteeism rate was approximately four percent for employees who participated in the program versus five percent for nonparticipants. Thus employees participating in the program had a 20 percent reduction in absenteeism in the first year.

A growing number of companies are interested in workplace health promotion programs, with the goal of reducing health risk factors that lead to illness and lost job productivity. Studies of previous programs haven't consistently shown reduced rates of absenteeism.

The comprehensive worksite health promotion program evaluated in the new study led to a significant drop in absenteeism rates, the authors said. Niessen and colleagues speculate that the program may have improved employees' psychological well-being or stress levels—perhaps as a result of making healthy lifestyle changes or getting help with mental health problems.

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