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Employee sick days in years before and after a mindfulness program

25 Jul 2023 12:10 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Workplace Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs) can result in increased well-being for employees, but do these benefits translate into objective measures such as reduced absenteeism? In a previously published study, researchers demonstrated that a workplace MBI could reduce the mental distress of supervisory staff and improve their health-related self-care.

Using a quasi-experimental design, Vonderlin et al. [Mindfulness] examined sick days from participants in the earlier study relative to a comparison group to test whether the MBI also reduced supervisor and supervisee absenteeism.

Twelve German corporations participated in the original study, with five of those corporations agreeing to have employee data used for the current study. Employee sick days were extracted from health insurance company records, limiting the data to employees insured by the cooperating health insurance company. As a result, the available sample comprised 13 supervisors out of the 147 who initially took part in the MBI. These supervisors supervised a total of 186 employees who were also covered by the cooperating insurance company and whose data could be retrieved.

Supervisor and supervisee sick day data were then compared with sick day data from a propensity score matched comparison group of 269 supervisors and 1,352 supervisees selected from a larger pool of enrollees from the cooperating health insurance company. Propensity score matching included matching for age, sex, employment status, and whether they were supervisory or supervised staff. The final sample averaged 44 years of age and was 78% female. The majority (88%) were employed in health care facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes.

The MBI program consisted of three full-day training sessions and two 3-hour booster sessions, with each session scheduled 4 weeks apart. The content of the MBI emphasized health-promoting self-care, health-promoting staff care, and addressing issues faced by stressed employees.

The mindfulness training was derived from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy’s mindfulness skills training module which involves mindfulness under daily life conditions rather than formal meditation practice. Sick days were recorded for two years before and two years after the MBI program.

The results showed that the group of MBI-trained supervisors had significantly reduced their average non-mental health related sick days from 33 days per two years to 14 sick days per two years, while the control group slightly increased sick days from an average of 32 to 34 days per two year period, a between group difference with a Cohen’s d=0.47. There was no group difference for mental health related sick days. 

It is worth noting that a closer analysis of the MBI-trained supervisor group indicated that the average non-mental health sick days can mislead. This was primarily due to one supervisor who took 215 sick days prior to the intervention. When median sick days were considered instead of mean sick days, the median for MBI-trained supervisors increased from 6 to 7 days, while the comparison group's median increased from 9 to 11 days.

German historical workplace data show that average sick days tend to increase annually. No significance test was offered for this difference. There were no within- or between-group significant differences in supervisee sick days.

The study suggests a workplace MBI, in addition to reducing mental distress and improving health related self-care, may reduce or slow the annual increase in supervisors’ sick days. The interpretation is complicated by multiple factors, including: 1) German health insurance companies only record sick days when there are more than three consecutive days absent, 2) the intervention group was small and had one influential outlier, 3) the comparison group was not a randomly-assigned control group, and 4) the mindfulness intervention did not involve formal meditation practice.


Vonderlin, R., Schmidt, B., Biermann, M., Lyssenko, L., Heinzel-Gutenbrunner, M., Kleindienst, N., Bohus, M., & Müller, G. (2023). Improving Health and Reducing Absence Days at Work: Effects of a Mindfulness- and Skill-Based Leadership Intervention on Supervisor and Employee Sick Days. Mindfulness. 

Link to study

American Mindfulness Research Association, LLC. 

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