Background: Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are chronic gastrointestinal conditions mainly affecting young people. The symptoms of these diseases often make it difficult to actively participate in the workplace especially during periods of flare. Activ84worK was a pilot project to stimulate professional activity and reduce absenteeism in IBD patients by providing them with more flexible working conditions including teleworking.
The aim of Activ84worK was to improve both the well-being of the patient as well as his/her employer, and to contribute to a reduction in absenteeism.
Methods: Activ84worK was a collaboration between Abbvie, Mensura, Proximus, SD Worx and University Hospitals Leuven (UZ Leuven) with the support of the patient association “Crohn- en Colitis Ulcerosa Vereniging (CCV vzw) in Flanders, Belgium”. Since April 2015, IBD patients were recruited by CCV and the gastroenterology department of UZ Leuven. Patients who showed interest, were contacted by Novellas healthcare for screening and follow-up in the program. Informed consent was signed and both the employee and employer were followed for 6 months by face-to-face meetings and intermediate phone contacts. The project was evaluated from 3 perspectives: the benefit of teleworking for the employer, the employee, and the effect on society.
Results: Between April 2015 and October 2016, 71 patients showed interest in the Activ84worK program, 19 were eligible to participate and 14 completed the program (29% male, 29% private companies). Over the period of 6 months, all patients expressed their enthusiasm for tailored and flexible working conditions thanks to the option of teleworking. The case studies, based on interviews conducted with participating employees, indicated that removing work-related stress factors (such as not having a toilet nearby, not being able to take a rest when needed) resulted in employees feeling much more at ease. Concretely, this led to fewer days of sick leave for most patients, a higher degree of workability and focus of employees, and a decrease in costs of absenteeism for employers and society. The pilot project was seen as a very positive experience by both parties. In addition, more openness was created between the employee and the employer, the taboo on the disease was lifted, and this had an overall positive impact on the work-life balance of patients.
Conclusions: This pilot project showed that teleworking and flexible working hours improved labor participation of patients with IBD. The results of this project are now used to inspire policy-makers and employers to gain maximum support for the chronically ill eager to work. We feel this initiative should be extended to a larger cohort of patients and should also be tested in other chronic diseases.