Dow Benelux maintains a happy workplace

Using analytics technologies to monitor and reduce stress levels across the organisation

Published on 13-Aug-2012

"We have been able to keep our absenteeism rate at around 3.1 percent, against an industry average of around 5.8 to 6.7 percent." - Henny Martens, Labour, Work and Organisation Expert, Occupational Health and Safety Service, Dow Benelux

Dow Benelux

Chemicals & Petroleum

Deployment country:

BA - Business Analytics, BA - Predictive Analytics, Smart Work, Smarter Planet

Smarter Planet:
Smart Work


Dow Benelux manages a total of 23 production units across the Benelux region – including Dow’s largest site outside the US. The company employs 2,100 people in the Netherlands and Belgium, all of whom are regularly assessed by the company’s internal health service to monitor their physical and psychological wellbeing.

Business need:
Dow Benelux knows that an organisation’s productivity and efficiency depends on the wellbeing of its employees – not only physically, but also psychologically. The company decided to build an analytics solution that would monitor workplace stress on individual, departmental and organisational levels.

Working with IBM, the Dow Benelux team deployed IBM® SPSS® predictive analytics software and developed a statistical model to measure various aspects of employee stress levels. When wellbeing levels for an individual or department fall below 60 percent, the company invokes a sophisticated intervention process to help improve the situation.

Enables interventions that help individuals deal more effectively with personal and professional stresses. This has helped to reduce the rate of absenteeism to just 3.1 percent, against an industry average of between 5.8 and 6.5 percent – significantly improving the company’s productivity. At average salary costs of €37,000 per year per full-time employee, this reduction in absenteeism translates into annual savings of between €999,000 and €1,258,000 per 1,000 employees.

Enables the company to adjust targets, staffing levels or leadership strategies to improve working conditions.

Case Study

The Dow Chemical Company, one of the world’s leading science and technology companies, focuses on combining chemistry, innovation and the principles of sustainability to help address many of the world’s most challenging problems. It achieved sales of US$60 billion in 2011, and employs approximately 52,000 people in 36 countries across the globe.

Dow Benelux manages a total of 23 production units across the Benelux region – including Dow’s largest site outside the US. The company employs 2,100 people in the Netherlands and Belgium, all of whom are regularly assessed by the company’s internal health service to monitor their physical and psychological wellbeing.

The importance of employee welfare

“At Dow Benelux, we take employee welfare very seriously,” explains Henny Martens, Labour, Work and Organisation Expert in the Occupational Health and Safety Service (OHSS) at Dow Benelux. “Stress levels have a major impact on employee productivity, absenteeism and turnover. Moreover, widespread stress in a department can often be a useful indicator that there are organisational problems that need to be addressed. Several years ago we decided to create a comprehensive programme for monitoring stress levels across our organisation, and we have subsequently become a European leader in this field.”

Government legislation in the Netherlands requires employers to put processes in place to describe and quantify potential occupational health risks that result from their operations, so all Dutch companies pay some attention to these issues. However, Dow’s revolutionary insight was to realise that the management of occupational health was far more than a simple compliance issue – it was a fundamental contributor to business success. Instead of treating it as a box-ticking compliance exercise, Dow decided to embed occupational health management – and stress monitoring in particular – into its core business processes.

Creating a programme for improvement

Working with IBM, the OHSS team at Dow Benelux developed a method of quantifying, analysing and monitoring employees’ stress levels over time. The first step was to design a questionnaire.

“We started out with a standard questionnaire developed by occupational psychologists at the University of Groningen,” says Henny Martens. “This survey includes about 250 questions, and is used to measure psychosocial working conditions by researchers all over Europe. Because it is such a large questionnaire, we were concerned that employees might not have time to fill it in completely, so our first task was to shorten it significantly without losing important information. We also needed to make a few other changes such as including additional questions from Dow’s Global Employee Opinion and Action Survey.”

Developing a reliable survey

The IBM team used statistical techniques to test the reliability of the 95 questions that were ultimately selected, compared to the original long questionnaire. The test showed that the shorter questionnaire produced comparable results, so the OHSS team was confident that it could be used in the workplace.

The questionnaire encompasses 24 different concepts which are grouped into four dimensions.

The first includes general job-related factors, such as how much workload an individual has and whether they feel that they are working in a safe environment. The second relates to the individual’s position within the organisation – their synergy with colleagues and their supervisor, and how well they feel the organisation communicates with them. These first two dimensions highlight any causes of stress that may exist within the organisation.

The third dimension focuses on psychosocial factors that indicate that stress is having an effect on the individual – for example, whether they are reluctant to go to work, or wish to change jobs, or are not sleeping well. The fourth and final dimension focuses on fatigue, which is a key contributing factor to stress-related problems.

The contribution of IBM Predictive Analytics

“Data from the questionnaires is gathered into a central database and analysed using IBM SPSS software,” explains Henny Martens. “The software creates a chart for each employee that shows how they have scored in each dimension, compared to their previous scores from the last time they took the survey, and also compared to the average scores for their department and for the site where they work.

“We send a copy of the results to every respondent, and also keep a copy in their confidential medical file. If any of the scores drop below 60 percent, we also make an appointment for them to come and see the Occupational Health physician and discuss the options for improving their situation. Sometimes the stress they are experiencing comes from outside the workplace – for example, if a member of their family is ill. In these cases, there isn’t much we can do from an organisational perspective, but we may be able to allow them to work fewer or more flexible hours. On the other hand, if their stress is being caused by something in the workplace, we can take action.”

Analysis at different levels

The IBM solution enables the OHSS team not only to measure and monitor individual stress levels, but also to look at overall responses at department level and site level. If the analysis shows a negative trend within a department, the issue is raised with the manager of that department during the regular Risk Inventory and Evaluation (RIE) meetings. A risk reduction plan (RRP) is then drafted, which includes a list of remedial actions and a schedule for when they will be implemented, as well as nominating the person who will be responsible for implementing them. The RRP is monitored and reviewed on a yearly basis by Dow’s working conditions committee to ensure that the correct actions are being taken.

The site-level analyses are used to create an annual wellbeing report which is reviewed by Dow’s general manager for the Benelux region and discussed at a yearly meeting with the company’s leadership teams and works council. Staff wellbeing is one of the key measures on which the performance of the company’s leaders is assessed, so they take personal responsibility for continuous improvement and the resolution of any problems at their sites.

Understanding the analyses

Henny Martens comments: “For the departmental and site-level analyses, we use slightly more sophisticated statistical techniques than we do for the individual analyses. This is because we’re dealing with average scores, and averages can be misleading.

“For example, imagine a department that consists of two equally sized teams. The first contains people who are not stressed at all and score 95 percent on all areas of the questionnaire, but the people in the second team are extremely stressed and only score 30 percent. The mean score will be 62.5 percent – which is above the threshold for intervention. But it’s clear that there is still a problem in that department. So we use a box plot technique to help our decision-makers understand how the scores are distributed around the mean and how the mean compares to the median, and see whether the average score is actually a good reflection of the department as a whole.”

Real business results

The success of the programme at Dow Benelux has been firmly established over the course of several years. The wellbeing survey is conducted on a rolling basis, and each employee completes a new questionnaire every two years. Over the course of the survey, the OHSS team has seen consistently high response rates of around 70 percent, which suggests that employees see it as a valuable exercise.

“We have built up a large body of data, and this has enabled us to identify a strong negative correlation between wellbeing and absenteeism,” says Henny Martens. “By working hard to minimise workplace stress levels, we have been able to keep our absenteeism rate at around 3.1 percent, against an industry average of around 5.8 to 6.7 percent. This is a win-win situation: our employees are generally happier and healthier, and our business avoids the loss of productivity that results from absences.”

Gaining unexpected insights

The OHSS team has also discovered some interesting and unexpected results from its analyses: for example, in departments where the staff score highly for job satisfaction and enjoy working with their colleagues and managers, the overall absenteeism rate is low – but the frequency of absenteeism is higher than expected. The theory is that people who work in a highly motivated department tend to return from illness sooner than they ought to, and run the risk of becoming ill again soon afterwards. As a result, the OHSS team has been training managers to encourage ill team members to stay at home until they are fully recovered, even if they are keen to return to work.

“The vital thing to realise is that analysis on its own is not enough – you need to take action, and then continue to monitor the results to make sure that improvements are being made,” comments Henny Martens. “Analytics is a vital part of the formula, but it needs to be embedded into your business processes. In our case, the results of our analyses have triggered all sorts of new initiatives at Dow Benelux – for example, extra training programmes for people who feel that their job has changed and that they are no longer properly qualified for it, and extra education for managers to help them communicate more effectively or deal with employees who are depressed.”

An award-winning solution

The groundbreaking efforts that Dow Benelux has made in this field have been recognised by several national and international awards. The company won the National Good Practice competition of the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs, and went on to win again in the European competition the following year. The company’s own works council has also acknowledged the contribution made by the programme, and recognised Henny Martens for his personal contribution.

He concludes: “It is very gratifying when others recognise what you have achieved and are pleased with the results. The OHSS team will continue to run and improve this programme, and the support we receive from IBM and from the software will help us gain further insights into key questions about employee wellbeing.”

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Products and services used

IBM products and services that were used in this case study.

SPSS Statistics

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© Copyright IBM Corporation 2012. IBM Nederland hoofdkantoor, Johan Huizingalaan 765, 1066 VH Amsterdam. Produced in the Netherlands. August 2012. IBM, the IBM logo,, Let’s Build A Smarter Planet, Smarter Planet, the planet icons and SPSS are trademarks of International Business Machines Corporation, registered in many jurisdictions worldwide. A current list of other IBM trademarks is available on the Web at “Copyright and trademark information” at: References in this publication to IBM products, programs or services do not imply that IBM intends to make these available in all countries in which IBM operates. Any reference to an IBM product, program or service is not intended to imply that only IBM’s product, program or service may be used. Any functionally equivalent product, program or service may be used instead. All customer examples cited represent how some customers have used IBM products and the results they may have achieved. Actual environmental costs and performance characteristics will vary depending on individual customer configurations and conditions. IBM hardware products are manufactured from new parts, or new and used parts. In some cases, the hardware product may not be new and may have been previously installed. Regardless, IBM warranty terms apply. This publication is for general guidance only. Photographs may show design models.