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  • Small Effects of Social or Physical Changes to Work Environment

    But Study Finds No Benefit of Combined Social and Physical Interventions

    Changes targeting the social or physical workplace environment have some positive effects on work-related outcomes — but at least so far, evidence doesn't support a combination of the two approaches, reports the March Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

    Cécile R.L. Boot, PhD, of VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, and colleagues, evaluated the effects of changes to the social and physical work environment at a financial services company. Departments were randomly assigned to social changes, including group motivational interviews to promote physical activity and relaxation; physical changes, such as different workplace zones for quiet work, meetings, and recreation; or a combination of social and physical changes.

    The study showed some "small but significant" effects on work-related outcomes. The social intervention led to improved work task performance, while the physical intervention was associated with improved "absorption" (being fully concentrated and immersed in work tasks).

    Departments receiving the combined intervention actually had small reductions in job dedication and contextual performance (additional activities that contribute to the organizational environment). None of the interventions significantly affected absenteeism or presenteeism (time spent at work with reduced productivity).

    There's growing interest in making changes in the work environment to promote employee health and productivity. It has been suggested that combining interventions to alter the social and physical environment might have a greater impact.

    But the social and physical environmental interventions evaluated in the study "demonstrated limited effectiveness" in improving work-related outcomes, Dr. Boot and colleagues write. The researchers suggest some ways in which the study interventions might be improved: for example, more frequent motivational sessions to improve the social environment, increased exposure to physical workplace modifications, and attention to aligning health promotion goals with the company's overall business plan.

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    Citation — Coffeng JK, Hendriksen IJ, Duijts SF, et al. Effectiveness of a combined social and physical environmental intervention on presenteeism, absenteeism, work performance, and work engagement in office employees. J Occup Environ Med. 2014; 56(3):258-65.

    About the Author — Dr Boot may be contacted for interviews at crl.boot@vumc.nl.

    About ACOEM — ACOEM (www.acoem.org), an international society of 4,500 occupational physicians and other health care professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.

    About the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine — The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (www.joem.org) is the official journal of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Edited to serve as a guide for physicians, nurses, and researchers, the clinically oriented research articles are an excellent source for new ideas, concepts, techniques, and procedures that can be readily applied in the industrial or commercial employment setting.