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How predicting absence improves employee wellbeing: Interview with Pieter Weijnen

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Employee wellbeing refers to optimising employee health at the workplace. That doesn’t only imply physical health, but taking care of all aspects of the wellbeing that make employees happy and healthy. That being said, poor employee wellbeing directly impacts the level of absenteeism and associated healthcare costs.

Companies have realised that preventing poor employee wellbeing and employee absence is more efficient than dealing with the consequences. Rabobank implemented a predictive absence model that helps to find the key drivers of long term absence and identify areas in the company that are at risk of high absence in the future.

Pieter Weijnen, People Analytics Data Scientist at Rabobank, will be presenting their case study at the Nordic People Analytics Summit.

Hyperight: Hi Pieter, we are pleased to welcome you and Rabobank to the Nordic People Analytics Summit 2021. Please tell us a little bit more about yourself, your background and your role at Rabobank.

Pieter Weijnen, People Analytics Data Scientist at Rabobank,

Pieter Weijnen: Yes of course. I’m Pieter Weijnen, 27 years old, live in Utrecht, the Netherlands and have been working at Rabobank for 2.5 years. I started off at Rabobank in a Traineeship in which I worked in different areas of the bank after which I joined the People Analytics team as a Data Scientist. Broadly speaking, my work can be divided into two main topics. The first one is of course the data science part where I perform analyses, form and test hypotheses and develop predictive models like the absence model I will present during the Summit.

The second one is what I like to call internal consulting where our team tries to help and support other HR colleagues to work in a more data-driven way. I have found that this dual role is a perfect fit for my interest in both data science and coaching/consultancy.

Learn more about the Nordic People Analytics Summit

Hyperight: At the NPA Summit, you will present How predicting absence can help to improve employee wellbeing. How does employee absence impact your company or stated differently what is the business case?

Pieter Weijnen: This is a very relevant question. If the absence in low in your company there is probably no need to try and reduce it further as you will always have a certain basic level of absenteeism. What we noticed at Rabobank was that our absence was above the industry average and increasing. A clear sign to look into this. For the business, the impact of a too high absence percentage is twofold. On the one hand, there is the loss of productivity when employees are absent. On the other hand, there are costs involved in hiring and training someone else when employees are absent for a longer period of time. We calculated the benefits of reducing absence figures and concluded it was worthwhile looking into this.

How predicting absence improves employee wellbeing: Interview with Pieter Weijnen
Photo by Israel Andrade on Unsplash

Hyperight: The COVID-19 outbreak highlighted how crucial it is for companies to prioritise employee wellbeing. Yet, many employers believe that wellbeing implies the absence of illness among employees. Could you please elaborate more on what employee wellbeing means to you?

Pieter Weijnen: Yes completely right, during this pandemic we have seen how important it is to focus on the wellbeing of our employees. For me, the term wellbeing is about a lot of things. There is a physical aspect; am I sitting in my chair from 8 till 5? or do I take the time to go outside and take frequent breaks? And of course, there is a mental aspect as well; am I able to detach at the end of the day? Or do I feel like I should be available 24/7? The culture within the company and your team are also important. Do you for instance feel comfortable sharing when you are not doing well? These are things that go far beyond simply calling in sick. At Rabobank, we developed a new way of checking in with our employees. This helps HR to better understand how people are doing and come up with targeted interventions.

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Hyperight: What are the most significant lessons you learnt after implementing the predictive absence model? And what would you recommend to companies thinking about investing in such an initiative?

Pieter Weijnen: The most important lesson I have learned during this process is that the data play an important role but are in themselves not enough to make change happen. In order to really create an impact for your employees, it is crucial to collaborate with, in this case for example. wellbeing experts and company doctors. At the start, they can really help to broaden your perspective and help you with selecting the relevant data. Based on their expertise, we for instance decided to focus specifically on long term absence. Towards the end, their knowledge is key to interpret the results and translate these into actions. 

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