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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Are workplace health promotion programs effective at improving presenteeism in workers? a systematic review and best evidence synthesis of the literature

Carol Cancelliere12*, J David Cassidy234, Carlo Ammendolia456 and Pierre Côté234

Author Affiliations

1 Master of Public Health Program, Faculty of Graduate Studies, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

2 Division of Health Care and Outcomes Research, Toronto Western Research Institute, Toronto Western Hospital, Ontario, Canada

3 Division of Epidemiology, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada

4 Department of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada

5 Institute for Work and Health, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

6 Department of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology, Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:395  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-395

Published: 26 May 2011

Abstract

Background

Presenteeism is highly prevalent and costly to employers. It is defined as being present at work, but limited in some aspect of job performance by a health problem.

Workplace health promotion (WHP) is a common strategy used to enhance on-the-job productivity. The primary objective is to determine if WHP programs are effective in improving presenteeism. The secondary objectives are to identify characteristics of successful programs and potential risk factors for presenteeism.

Methods

The Cochrane Library, Medline, and other electronic databases were searched from 1990 to 2010. Reference lists were examined, key journals were hand-searched and experts were contacted. Included studies were original research that contained data on at least 20 participants (≥ 18 years of age), and examined the impacts of WHP programs implemented at the workplace. The Effective Public Health Practice Project Tool for Quantitative Studies was used to rate studies. 'Strong' and 'moderate' studies were abstracted into evidence tables, and a best evidence synthesis was performed. Interventions were deemed successful if they improved the outcome of interest. Their program components were identified, as were possible risk factors contributing to presenteeism.

Results

After 2,032 titles and abstracts were screened, 47 articles were reviewed, and 14 were accepted (4 strong and 10 moderate studies). These studies contained preliminary evidence for a positive effect of some WHP programs. Successful programs offered organizational leadership, health risk screening, individually tailored programs, and a supportive workplace culture. Potential risk factors contributing to presenteeism included being overweight, a poor diet, a lack of exercise, high stress, and poor relations with co-workers and management. Limitations: This review is limited to English publications. A large number of reviewed studies (70%) were inadmissible due to issues of bias, thus limiting the amount of primary evidence. The uncertainties surrounding presenteeism measurement is of significant concern as a source of bias.

Conclusions

The presenteeism literature is young and heterogeneous. There is preliminary evidence that some WHP programs can positively affect presenteeism and that certain risk factors are of importance. Future research would benefit from standard presenteeism metrics and studies conducted across a broad range of workplace settings.