The Well-Being Journal

Why Employers Should Care About Caregiving

Madison Agee

Shifting demographics and cultural changes are affecting the face of modern caregiving. As we explored in an earlier article, today’s caregiver doesn’t always meet the traditional image of the dutiful daughter with few outside responsibilities. In fact, data from the 2014 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index® revealed that 13.4 percent of modern caregivers are employed full-time—meaning caregivers are balancing work, self-care and their own personal lives with the often daunting responsibilities of caregiving.

These multiple priorities can mean that caregivers may not be focused on their own well-being. Well-Being Index data tells us that there is a link between caregiving and well-being—caregivers, regardless of age, have lower overall well-being than non-caregivers. They’re also behind non-caregivers when it comes to the individual elements of well-being. Across the board, caregivers have lower purpose, social, financial, community and physical well-being than non-caregivers (though older caregivers reach parity in social well-being).

The link between caregiving and well-being has important implications for employers. Well-Being Index data reveals that caregivers are more likely to have conditions that require expensive medical interventions, such as diabetes and asthma. They’re also more prone to lifestyle risks like obesity and smoking, which can also drive up healthcare costs.

The lower well-being of caregivers can have an impact on employers beyond healthcare costs. For example, employers may notice caregiving’s effects on presenteesim and performance. Given their competing priorities, caregivers may likely be distracted, worried and stressed while at work. In a Pfitzer-REAct/Gallup poll, 54 percent of caregivers reported that their role affects their work performance. Perhaps their caregiving role makes employees less likely to embrace opportunities that involve more responsibility, longer hours or travel, since they wouldn’t be able to provide care for their loved one as easily. In fact, results from the same poll show that nearly a quarter of caregivers say their role prohibits them from working more.

Caregiving also has an impact on absenteeism. Employees may miss work for a variety of reasons related to their caregiving role—maybe they’re taking their loved one to the doctor or providing more intensive care on a certain day. But they may also be absent from work due to their own negatively impacted health and well-being. Well-Being Index data shows us that caregivers who are working full-time miss 8.1 days of work a year—72 percent more than non-caregivers.

Recent analysis by Gallup revealed that this absenteeism due to caregiving is costing the U.S economy $27 billion a year in lost productivity. Given this astounding figure, as well as the other reasons we’ve discussed, employers should look for to support caregivers in their population—a topic we’ll address in an upcoming article. Until then, view a recording of our webinar, The Costs of Caring: The Impact of Caregiving on Your Population’s Well-Being.

Topics: Workplace Well-Being Productivity Caregiving Employers

What Can Happen When an Employer More Visibly Supports a Culture of Well-Being?

Madison Agee

As we’ve explored earlier, organizational culture can play a pivotal role in the overall success of a well-being improvement program. If their cultures aren’t supportive of (or even worse, if they’re inhospitable to) well-being, even the most thoughtful, well-designed programs can struggle to deliver the kinds of valuable outcomes employers want to see.

A mid-sized employer in the insurance industry recognized this link between culture and program outcomes, so it worked with Healthways to develop and implement a more purposeful culture of well-being within the organization. Some of the initiatives the employer and Healthways focused on were fostering support among leadership and launching activities such as employee challenges and access to fitness classes. Additionally, the employer partnered with Healthways to create and deploy an overall well-being improvement program, which included assessments, action plans, health coaching and web-based resources.

A study recently published by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) explores the outcomes of this well-being improvement program and the associated cultural enhancements. Covering a two-year period and authored by the Healthways Center for Health Research, “Well-Being Improvement in a Mid-Size Employer: Changes in Well-Being, Productivity, Health Risk and Perceived Employer Support after Implementation of a Well-Being Improvement Strategy is unique in that it’s the very first study to show that employer support for a well-being culture can positively contribute to program outcomes. Specifically, the study established that, for every 1.0 point increase in the perception of employer support for well-being, there was a corresponding 1.9 point increase in overall well-being score.

Over the two-year period of the study, overall well-being among employees improved 7.3 points, a 10.4 percent increase. By the conclusion of the study, overall well-being at the employer had, in fact, even outpaced the well-being of the surrounding community, despite starting significantly below the community average.

The six specific dimensions of well-being measured by the study also all improved. For example, healthy behaviors jumped an impressive 42 percent over the two years, while emotional health improved 12 percent. This improvement in overall well-being and its dimensions was mirrored by a corresponding decrease in the percentage of employees with health risks such as high blood pressure, cholesterol levels and tobacco usage. The group of employees who have two or fewer of these risks increased 13 percent over the study period.

The study also shows a boost in productivity that occurred after the well-being improvement program was implemented. Self-reported job performance improved 2 percent, and on-the-job productivity loss (i.e., presenteeism) decreased by a notable 21 percent. All of these outcomes support earlier research that showed the positive results that can occur following implementation of a well-being improvement strategy.

Employers interested in seeing similar results may be wondering how they can get started on building a culture that is more supportive of well-being. In our “9 Ways to Think Big, Start Small,” we’ve compiled nine top ways to activate a culture of well-being within your organization. We’ve even included easy examples of each to help start the process today.

Topics: Well-Being Productivity Science and Research

Improving Well-Being in a Challenging Population

Madison Agee

When you think of the type of organization that implements a well-being improvement program in its workforce population, what comes to mind? If you’re like many people, you’re probably imagining a professional services organization with a predominantly white-collar workforce — the type of environment where employees usually have good healthcare coverage and long employment tenures.

It’s no different when it comes to the scientific literature that has looked at the outcomes of programs such as workplace wellness and employee well-being improvement. Studies have historically focused on professional, white-collar environments, essentially ignoring industries such as retail and warehousing where workers are typically more blue-collar. Thus, the recent publication of a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) provides a much-needed and unique contribution to the scientific body, as it examines the outcomes of a well-being intervention program among a mostly blue-collar employee population.

The study, “Well-being, Health and Productivity After an Employee Well-being Intervention in Large Retail Distribution Centers” was authored by the Healthways Center for Health Research and reveals the positive outcomes that occurred following a Healthways-driven well-being intervention at a large retail employer. Supporting what is perhaps a common assumption regarding blue-collar workers, the participants in this study, on average, faced significantly more challenges than individuals in the surrounding community. These challenges included lower overall well-being scores, physical health, healthy behaviors, basic access and ability to afford food.

Despite these pre-intervention challenges, the employees in the study achieved measurable improvements in overall well-being scores, biometric measurements and workplace productivity over a six-month period. For example, overall well-being improved by nearly 2.5 points, while healthy behaviors improved 12.1 percent. Additionally, total cholesterol dropped an average of 10.8 points, and on-the-job productivity improved by 18.8 percent.

In addition to being traditionally associated with white-collar environments, workplace wellness and well-being intervention programs are often expected to require significant time to produce successful outcomes. Therefore, employers in industries in which high turnover among workers is common (such as retail) may be reluctant to implement programs that are perceived as long-term investments in their workforce. This study shows, however, that after only six months of intervention, participants realized noticeable improvement in all three categories of metrics in the study: well-being scores, biometric measurements and on-the-job productivity.

This may be especially appealing given the significant improvement in productivity that was seen during this study —results similar to the 18.8 percent improvement seen in the study over just a six-month period could be incredibly important in many workplaces. 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 Workplace Well-Being Business Performance Productivity Science and Research

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