The Well-Being Journal

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

Are Your Employees Hung Over from the Holidays?

Madison Agee

We’re not talking about the kind of hangover you get from one too many eggnogs, or even a food hangover from too many cookies. We mean a spending hangover. We’ve all been there—opening January’s credit card statement to see just how much damage we did to our wallets during the holidays. Even the most budget-conscious among us may have been a little too generous in December, which means January came as a rude awakening.

Unfortunately, the distraction of financial stress isn’t unique to the holidays. According to a 2014 survey by PwC, nearly a quarter of employees say their finances are a distraction while at work. This is especially a concern for millennials, 35 percent of whom are diverting their on-the-job attention to managing issues related to personal finance. Research conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management confirms that financial stress is a concern for many HR professionals—61 percent say it’s having “some impact” on work performance, while another 22 percent concede it’s a “large impact.”

The PwC research went a step further and quantified how much productive time organizations are losing to their employees’ financial worries. Nearly one in four employees (39 percent) are spending three or more hours per week thinking about or managing their personal finances. In 2012, MetLife found that another 22 percent have admitted to taking unexpected time off to deal with a financial issue.

And it’s not just reductions to on-the-job productivity that could be negatively influencing your bottom line. As we’ve discussed here before, financial stress can lead to serious health and well-being risks, such as cardiovascular disease, depression and substance abuse. These risks can then translate into a number of unwelcome outcomes for both employee and employer, such as higher healthcare costs and increased absenteeism.

The good news is that many employers are realizing the negative impact their employees’ finances are having on their bottom line and addressing this through financial wellness programs. MetLife revealed that 40 percent of employers are offering some sort of financial education program to their workers, although the makeup of these programs can vary considerably. Having an annual visit from the 401(k) representative may be a good start to managing employees’ financial stress, but this may not be the most important way you can help your workers.

It’s important to remember that financial well-being is part of a larger well-being context, interrelated to your employees’ sense of purpose, physical health, social relationships and community connections. Addressing all of these elements together can bolster the overall success of efforts aimed at helping your employees avoid spending hangovers and other sources of financial stress in the future.

To learn more about financial well-being, its impact in the workplace and holistic methods for addressing it, listen to a recording of our webinar, “Healthcare's Quiet Emergency: The Impact of Employee Financial Well-Being on Health, Productivity and Your Bottom Line.”

Topics: Financial Well-Being Workplace Well-Being

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

The 3 Leadership Tenets Behind a Strong Well-Being Culture

Madison Agee

 

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Are your leaders actively -- and visibly -- improving their own well-being?

If your organizational culture and your stated commitment to well-being improvement aren’t in close alignment with one another, you could be unconsciously undermining the potential of your wellness programs. In other words, culture counts – a lot. It doesn’t matter how excellent your benefits package and well-being improvement offerings are if they’re at a constant disconnect with your overall culture. For example, what’s the point of having a generous paid time off (PTO) policy if employees are never actually taking vacation days?

An essential step in determining the state of your well-being culture is to turn a critical eye on your organization and ask some important questions. Once you’ve completed this self-evaluation, you can focus your attention on those areas that you’ve identified for further development. For many organizations, the commitment and behavior of their leaders is a crucial area for improvement.

In a popular webinar from June, experts from Gallup and Healthways provided a great deal of insight into the important role leadership plays in creating, cultivating and sustaining a culture of well-being. According to Ross Scott, Chief Human Resources Officer at Healthways, there are three key leadership tenets behind a strong culture of well-being:

  1. Leaders should be grounded in the value proposition of and fully understand the business case for well-being. Do your leaders truly believe in the value of well-being – that healthier people cost less and perform better? If they do, then they’re much more likely to participate in and encourage their teams’ participation in well-being programs. But if there’s any lingering doubt in a leader’s mind, that could inhibit the success of your well-being improvement program.
  2. Leaders’ own well-being impacts their ability to show up and lead effectively every day. Employees, of course, will model the tone and behaviors set by your leaders, so leaders can’t just expect that employees will embrace and embody better well-being without them. Demonstrating their individual dedication to well-being improvement can make leaders healthier, happier and better in their roles. At the same time, doing so shores up the strength of your well-being programs by not only making it okay, but actively encouraged for employees to engage in well-being improvement activities.
  3. Leaders have the opportunity to influence the well-being of others with every interaction. As described by Gallup, there are “20,000 moments in a day” during which organizations can positively impact their cultures of well-being and help their employees on their own individual journeys. Leaders who remember this and continuously take advantage of the multiple touchpoints and opportunities they have with their employees can make a tremendous positive impact. Relatively simple actions – smiling, taking a moment to listen to an employee, starting a meeting with a question about well-being – can be incredibly powerful actions.

So, how well are your leaders doing in terms of supporting your culture of well-being? Are they exhibiting these three key tenets on a regular basis? Simply educating them on these three principles could help you cultivate your well-being culture – perhaps your leaders aren’t totally aware of the enormous impact they have.

As you’re building your well-being culture, you may want to consider a few thought-provoking ideas that can continue to guide your organization. Luckily, we’ve collected nine of the top ways organizations can create and grow their well-being cultures – complete with easy tips for getting started today with little to no major investment of resources or budget.

Topics: Well-Being Workplace Well-Being Engagement Business Performance Productivity