The Work Limitations Questionnaire (WLQ)

By Michelle Maisto

What Is Presenteeism?

Tufts University Senior Scientist Debra Lerner defines presenteeism as "a state of compromised ability to perform in one's job role." It's also thought of as "lower-order absenteeism." The result is decreased worker productivity.

How to Spot Presenteeism

Presenteeism has an "experiential component" -- it's not a characteristic of a person; instead, it's brought on by a particular challenge or a certain context.

Four Key Challenges to Measuring Presenteeism

Measuring presenteeism depends on self reporting, which managers typically don't trust. Other measurement challenges include:• obtaining accurate reports on compromised work activity• identifying that the issue is health related• converting health-related compromises into a productivity metric• translating that metric into dollars

U.S. Norm for Presenteeism

The ICRHPS looked at presenteeism across a number of industries and found it to cause approximately a 3 percent loss in productivity. Among the top reasons were emotional health risks, such as stress and depression, and lifestyle risks, such as tobacco and alcohol use.

The Work Limitations Questionnaire (WLQ)

The WLQ asks about the extent to which health problems are interfering with activities related to productivity. The questions don't ask about productivity directly but can measure health effects on workers' ability to function, and ascribe a monetary value to productivity equivalents. Still being perfected is how to "convert functional losses in terms of productivity equivalents," said Lerner.

Depression as an Example

Depression affects how people think, feel and behave and is related to productivity losses "in the billions of dollars," said Lerner. A WHI initiative on depression was developed and is delivered in the work place: A Web-based survey is followed by phone-based counseling over four months. The WHI gets immediate feedback and offers "a calm way of informing people they may have depression."

The WHI Approach

There's also a workbook approach to help workers gain control of their thoughts and feelings. Workers are taken through exercises and given homework. Another component identifies a particular area of work where someone is having problems and helps him or her to find solutions.

WHI Study Results

In a trial with the State of Maine, workers' ability to concentrate and perform other mental or interpersonal tasks increased by nearly 32 percent using the WHI methods, while traditional methods of care showed a 4 percent improvement. Depression severity was improved by 41 percent using the WHI methods, while the group receiving traditional care became 5 percent more depressed than when they began.

Productivity Translated to Cost Savings

Those results, translated into productivity costs, related to an annualized savings, per participant, of $5,062 due to absences; a savings of $980 in at-work productivity; and a total estimated annual savings of $6,042 per participant.

Focusing on depression,

in particular, seems to be leading to new methods for helping employees to feel better and function better, said Lerner. Organizations interested in being part of the current study, which has a year left, should reach out to Lerner directly at dlerner@tuftsmedicalcenter.org.

This article was originally published on 03-13-2012