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The Dutch employee seems to be exhausted. The level of sick leave has not been as high as it is now in twenty years. That appears from the new trend report on work-related absenteeism and incapacity to work published by the insurance company Nationale-Nederlanden (NN). Over the years, Innovation Origins has featured stories from companies about how they want to reduce absenteeism by tackling stress and burnout. They do this by harnessing innovative technology, such as VR therapy, or a keyboard that detects burnout symptoms.

Sick leave in the Netherlands rose above five percent this year, a record high. Not only did the number of sick days soar, employees are also absent from work for longer periods of time. Psychological issues appear to be the number one cause. For example, a lot of employees suffer from stress due to high levels of debt. Moreover, the winter flu is flaring up again at the moment. A range of tech companies are focusing on addressing employees’ health problems. Innovation Origins spoke with many of them and compiled a top three.

A low-stimulus VR environment

Healthcare workers, as well as employees in many other work fields, often work under far too much pressure. The Groningen-based VRelax aims to make Dutch people mentally healthier through Virtual Reality relaxation therapy. It works like this: People put on the VR glasses during working hours and already experience a reduction in stress by an average of more than forty percent in as little as ten to fifteen minute.

Sebastiaan Lommelaars, Marketing Manager at VRelax, told IO: “Our team of camera people created about fifty of these kinds of virtual environments aimed at relaxation. We already knew from scientific literature that nature images work best to help our brains relax. For example, users are taken to a forest, the beach or the Alps. What also works well are images of animals. But ultimately it is up to the user to decide which environment resonates with them best. We see that they often gravitate towards a selection of two or three different environments”

The therapy is currently being used in hospitals and GGD municipal health services, as well as in the police and defense forces, among others.

Breathing therapy

Paying attention to your breathing can also be important in preventing burnout. The Delft company Glimp, in collaboration with breathing therapists, has developed two devices, pebbles, in the form of two pebbles to help you (re)learn to breathe in the right way.

Jefta Vriend, founder and CEO of Glimp, explains how it works. “They are two devices that can fit in anyone’s hand. A thumb sensor is on the pebbles that measures your oxygen saturation level, heart rate and heart rate variability. It also specifically looks at the acute stress in the body during a session. We can then combine that data to track what effect the exercises are having on a person. We have written our own algorithm for this. The idea is that this stress naturally subsides during the sessions. The collected data is reported back to the client.”

During the breathing therapy, users can choose from various breathing patterns and techniques. The feedback that the client gets to see how the therapy is progressing is very important to their recovery and in instilling the habit of breathing properly. People recover from burnout up to twice as fast with the help of this therapy.

Analyzing typing and mouse behavior

How a person uses a computer says a lot about the person’s mental state. For example, it is possible to recognize stress and emotions by analyzing this kind of data. Work-related stress can eventually be alleviated this way.

Bob van der Meulen is co-founder of Intense Solutions. The start-up wants to give companies insight into how their organization is faring on a large scale and with “a lot” of precision. “The behaviour of an employee reflects how she or he is feeling. If you are stressed, you sit behind your computer screen just a bit differently than you normally do. You might hit the keys just that little bit harder. Fine motor skills are a very valuable source of data.”

Its mainly about how an organization functions overall. The start-up never provides feedback to the director one-on-one on how an employer is managing. Van der Meulen: “That is far too invasive. We manage things at the departmental level. For example, that the HR department could use some more standing desks. Or that the marketing department is under too much stress. This enables employers to intervene in a very targeted way.”