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Decreased Productivity Related to Psychosocial Risk Factors

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Psychosocial risk factors of work demands, social climate, and employee commitment to the organization were related to sickness absence in a prospective study of 2095 Swedish employees.  Further, the 3 ½ year investigation found that when companies improved these risk factors, sickness absence was reduced.

Presenteeism (attending work when ill) was associated with the psychosocial risk factors of work demands, work control, social climate, employee commitment to the organization, and role compatibility.  When these issues were addressed, the odds of future presenteeism were reduced for all risk factors except work demands.

The study also found that employee health reduces the impact of the identified psychosocial risk factors on both future absenteeism and presenteeism.

The Bottom Line – How This Applies To Ergonomists
Absenteeism, dedication to work, and workforce turnover – all issues that greatly affect a company’s bottom line – are strongly influenced by workplace psychosocial factors.  This study showed that productivity can be increased by:

  • focusing on employee commitment to the organization
  • optimizing role compatibility
  • improving social climate
  • lower the work demands
  • empowering employees in control over their work

Optimization of workplace productivity requires an ergonomist to focus on this set of issues – usually best addressed through an organizational health program.  Also, employing a broad approach that includes employee health concerns can augment your success.

Other Key Study Points
Regarding sickness absence, at the time of the first evaluation, 35.2% of the cohort group had greater than seven days of sickness absence over the prior year while at the second evaluation, this dipped to 30.8% – a statistically significant change.

Regarding presenteeism, at the time of the first evaluation, 45.4% reported as performing presenteeism two or more days over the prior year while at the second evaluation, this changed to 44.8% – not statistically significant.

In presenting background information, the authors note that studies have found:

  1. An average of $2.30 productivity loss occurs for every $1.00 spent on medical and pharmacy costs
  2. Presenteeism costs an estimated $255 per employee per year among US companies
  3. For some specific disorders, financial losses due to presenteeism far exceed those due to absenteeism
  4. Higher levels of presenteeism are related to high stress, lack of emotional fulfillment, physical inactivity, unhealthy body mass index, and poor diet
  5. Higher levels of absenteeism are associated with physical inactivity, high stress, and diabetes/high blood glucose
  6. Employees who perceived their jobs to be more stressful than satisfying had greater levels of presenteeism, poor health, greater levels of depression, and riskier lifestyle behavior.

Study Method
Data generated for this study was part of a larger investigation whose purpose was to conduct workplace interventions to create a healthy organization.

Through group intervention, health and psychosocial work environment issues identified from a survey were addressed. 

A questionnaire involving health-related quality of life, lifestyle, presenteeism, and work environment was completed at two time periods over a 3 ½ year study.  The QPS Nordic questionnaire was used to assess workplace social and psychological factors such as work demands, work control, leadership, social climate, innovative climate, commitment to the organization, role compatibility, role ambiguity, social support from colleagues, and mastery of work.  Physical and mental health status was assessed.

Lost productivity was measured through an assessment of absenteeism (the collection of company sickness absence data) for the year before and the year after the survey. Presenteeism (employee response to the question “How many times the past 12 months have you been at work even though you according to your health state should have stayed at home?”) was asked with each questionnaire.

This study can be acquired at:

Article Title: The Effects of Psychosocial Work Factors on Production Loss, and the Mediating Effect of Employee Health

Publication: Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 52:3 310-317, 2010

Authors: M L Karlsson, C Björklund, and I Jensen\


Tim Villnave, MSPH, is an ergonomics consultant in the Division of Risk Management for the State of Utah.