Study: Health Promotion Programs Can Put a Dent in Absenteeism

A new study of a Dutch company's workplace health promotion program suggests that such initiatives can help reduce worker absenteeism by up to 20 percent.

The study, led by Maurice A.J. Niessen of the NDDO Institute for Prevention and Early Diagnostics in Amsterdam, examined 3,900 employees who enrolled in a comprehensive, Web-based worksite health promotion program. The program emphasized low-pressure, low-intensity interventions and integrated risk prediction equations with research-proven prevention and early diagnostic steps. The program also assessed mental health issues leading to burnout, a major cause of work disability in the Netherlands.

After 1 year, the estimated absenteeism rate was approximately 4 percent for employees who participated in the program versus 5 percent for nonparticipants. Researchers pointed out that the improvement was achieved faster than expected: One year isn't considered long enough for lifestyle changes to have a meaningful impact on the risk of chronic diseases.

Niessen and colleagues speculated 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.

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 study appears in the April Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

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