ACOEM (American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine)

Work health promotion programs show benefits

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Work health promotion programs can have positive effects on employees' health and productivity—including more than a 20 percent reduction in sick leave, according to a review in the November Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

Despite the limitations of the available data, 'It appears that work health promotion does affect employees' ability to work, and is worthwhile at workplaces,' concludes the new study, led by Dr. Kuoppala Jaana of Siinto, Kiiskilampi, Finland. The researchers identified and analyzed 46 previous studies evaluating the effects of work health promotion programs.

The results showed meaningful improvements in several key measures, notably including a 22 percent reduction in sick leave. Work health promotion showed positive effects in other areas as well, including reduced emotional exhaustion and 'burnout,' improvement on measures of mental health, and increases in employees' perceived work ability.

The studies suggested that certain types of work health promotion programs had benefits in specific areas. For example, exercise programs seemed to increase overall and mental well-being and work ability while reducing absences due to illness. Programs designed to promote healthy lifestyles and ergonomic working conditions also helped to reduce absences.

An important limiting factor was that most of the studies reviewed were of low scientific quality—therefore the evidence they provided was generally weak. The evidence for reduced work absences was rated 'moderately strong,' however.

Work health promotion programs use various methods—for example, targeting lifestyles, work tasks, health and safety issues, or work environments—to help improve employee health. These programs are viewed as an important part of efforts to improve worker productivity and well-being on the job.

The new review provides an update on the effectiveness of work health promotion. Through their effects on sick leave and other outcomes, these programs have the potential to increase worker health and productivity, thus lowering costs for employers.

The study also provides guidance on what types of programs are and are not effective. Based on their findings, Dr. Jaana and colleagues suggest that work health promotion programs 'should target both physical and psychosocial environments at work.'

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