The Productivity Factor

This article accompanies Bending the Trend

Saturday, October 16, 2010
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Productivity, experts agree, can be the most elusive thing to measure. But that doesn't mean companies don't try. Among Fortune 500 companies over a cross-section of industries, it is routine to measure the impact on productivity, says Steven Aldana, CEO of WellSteps in Mapleton, Utah. "They are almost always asking questions on some limited scale."

The hard data of absenteeism, disability and workers' compensation is a useful measure. But many evaluators also include questions about presenteeism in the health-risk assessment questionnaire.

For example, the University of Michigan's Health Management Resource Center builds in productivity questions such as: "In the past four weeks, did you miss an entire work day because of problems with your physical or mental health?"

"Presenteeism is just another word for productivity," says Aldana. "We have a questionnaire that asks individuals [questions like], 'On average, how would you rate your productivity?' It's simple self-reporting. We use it, and it's pretty accurate."

There are also about a half-dozen productivity instruments in use designed specifically to evaluate presenteeism, says Ron Goetzel, director of Emory University's Institute for Health and Productivity Studies.

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"Productivity is, in some ways, easier to measure [than claims data] if you have the right instrument," he says. Examples include the Health and Productivity Questionnaire, used by the World Health Organization; the Work Limitations Questionnaire and the Work Product Short Inventory.

Evaluating presenteeism is not that hard, says Adam Long, vice president of Nashville, Tenn.-based Onlife Health. But it gets tough, he says, because you have to compare individuals who took the questionnaire both before and after intervention with others who didn't participate. "The big mistake ... is not doing a comparison of change."

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