‘Inclusive working life’ programme reduces sick leave in companies

‘Inclusive working life’ (IWL) is a Norwegian intervention programme aimed at reducing sick leave and increasing the average retirement age. In 2005, the National Institute of Occupational Health evaluated the programme by examining 86 company cases, with a view to identifying possible success factors. Such factors were found to include integrating IWL within the corporate strategy, enabling employee participation, and availing of occupational health services.

The Norwegian national intervention programme ‘Inclusive Working Life’ (Inkluderende arbeidsliv, IWL) was initiated in 2001 with the objective of reducing sick leave, preventing early retirement and promoting employment of employees with ‘impaired functionality’, that is, reduced work ability (NO0110107F, NO0301104F). More than half of Norwegian workers now work in a company that is participating in the programme. The key drivers to participating in the IWL programme are both economic incentives and the provision of advisory assistance. Working life centres have been set up in all counties as part of the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Organisation (Arbeids- og velferdsetaten, NAV) (NO0610069I).

About the study

In 2005, the National Institute of Occupational Health (Statens arbeidsmiljøinstitutt, STAMI) evaluated the IWL programme by examining 86 enterprises, employing a total of about 90,000 employees, selected by the social partners from the ‘IWL Bank of Models of Good Practice’ (Idébanken Inkluderende Arbeidsliv, IB). The IB is a knowledge base that collects, collates, evaluates and disseminates information for a more inclusive workplace. An employee representative and a manager in the selected companies received a postal questionnaire from STAMI. Data on sick leave for the period 2000–2004 were taken from the National Insurance registry. In addition, STAMI interviewed 16 of the 86 enterprises as well as their occupational health service and local IWL centre. The evaluation received financial support from the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (Næringslivets Hovedorganisasjon, NHO).

Study findings

The overall response rate in the study was 65%. The results can be grouped into three main categories under the following headings in line with the objectives of the IWL programme. On the whole, 89% of the selected enterprises reported that they were fully successful in achieving the objectives set out in the IWL programme.

Reduction in sickness absence

Some 92% of the companies planned to reduce sick leave, while 82% answered that they had succeeded in doing so.

More employees with impaired functionality in employment

Overall, 53% of the enterprises sought to discourage their employees with functional impairment from leaving work and another 22% planned to hire functionally impaired employees. Some 27% reported that they employ functionally impaired employees, while a further 68% answered that they had succeeded in taking care of their functionally impaired workers.

Increase in average actual retirement age

A total of 23% of the selected companies reported that they intend to prevent early retirement and 38% responded that they had succeeded in doing so.

Slightly higher sick leave rate

Despite these relatively positive responses, sick leave rates in the enterprises studied were approximately 1% higher than the national average (see figure). In fact, the trend in terms of the numbers taking sick leave in the selected organisations, from 2000 to 2004, followed the same pattern as the national average. This is an unexpected finding because these enterprises were chosen by the social partners as being very successful. It may indicate that the identification of models of good practice in line with the objectives set out in the IWL programme is more difficult than was initially anticipated.

Sick leave rates certified by a doctor at the enterprises studied, compared with national average, 2000–2004 (%)

Sick leave rates certified by a doctor at the enterprises studied, compared with national average, 2000–2004 (%)

Source: STAMI, 2005

A reduction in sick leave, from 2000 to 2004, in the companies surveyed was associated with the:

  • implementation of the IWL programme and its inclusion as an integral part of the company’s strategy;
  • broad participation and empowerment of the employees;
  • active use of assistance from the IWL centres and occupational health services within the enterprise.

Nevertheless, sick leave is still considered too high in Norway and, in November 2006, a high-level committee of social partner representatives, set up to discuss and recommend measures to reduce sickness absenteeism in Norwegian working life, published its report (NO0611029I).

Limited impact of IWL on use of early retirement schemes

Take-up of early retirement did not seem to be influenced by the IWL intervention. The low incidence of early retirement was mainly associated with the age profile and financial standing of the selected enterprises. Companies in a good economic position tended to use early retirement to a lesser extent than did enterprises in economic difficulty. Unsurprisingly, enterprises with an older workforce tended to use early retirement more than organisations with a younger workforce.


Lie, A., Jacobsen, K., Aasnæss, S., Ingebrigtsen, A. and Bakken, B., Inclusive working life in Norway – What characterises successful enterprises? (in Norwegian, 528Kb PDF), Report No. 7, STAMI, 2005.

Arve Lie, STAMI

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