Which Has a Greater Impact on Employee Productivity: Well-Being or Chronic Disease?

Madison Agee

Having a chronic condition no doubt has an impact on your productivity at work. Employers are well aware of this fact, and typically structure their wellness programs to focus on improving their employees’ physical health to prevent productivity loss. This approach is understandable, given that the existing body of scientific literature supports the idea that physical health (such as the presence or absence of chronic illnesses) is the primary contributor to worker productivity.

However, findings from a new study recently published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has called this commonly held belief into question. The study showed that employees’ well-being is actually a more important contributor to on-the-job productivity than their chronic disease status. The study, “Comparing the Contributions of Well-Being and Disease Status to Employee Productivity,” is the first to challenge the common belief that physical health is the primary contributor to employee productivity levels. It’s also the first study to specifically show that well-being improvement can increase productivity in both healthy populations and those with disease.

Well-being is a more complex and holistic measure. Well-being considers not only the important role of physical health but also a person’s sense of purpose, social relationships, financial security and community attachment.

“As individuals, we intuitively know that we are not at our best when we are stressed about anything that is important to our well-being,” said James E. Pope M.D., chief science officer at Healthways and coauthor of the article. “What this research has shown is how these elements of well-being interact to drive decreased productivity. Equally exciting is the discovery that programs designed to help improve the overall well-being can improve the productivity of both healthy and chronically ill individuals alike.

“Measuring employee well-being and understanding the unique aspects of their populations will help employers achieve more successful outcomes with their programs. Higher well-being manifests in greater degrees of creativity, innovation and employee engagement, all of which can improve value for employers by shifting the focus from productivity loss to productivity gain.”

The two-year survey tracked the well-being of more than 2,600 employees at three different companies. Researchers divided the employees into two groups: those that had no chronic conditions and those with diabetes (these individuals may have had other health conditions). Diabetes was selected as the focus chronic condition due to its prevalence and demonstrated impact on productivity.

The study showed that employees with higher well-being demonstrated greater workplace productivity, regardless of whether they suffered from chronic conditions. In addition, well-being was more important than chronic disease or demographic factors in defining how productive a person would be in any given year. Over time, changes in well-being contributed significantly to shifts in productivity beyond what could be explained by any individual characteristic, such as disease status, age, gender or socioeconomic status.

To read more about improving on-the-job productivity, download a copy of Healthways’ eBook 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Improving Productivity in the Workplace.

Topics: Well-Being In the News Workplace Well-Being Healthcare Competitive Advantage Productivity Health Conditions Science and Research Health Status