Why Staying Healthy helps Employees Work Better

Health is wealth, as the old adage goes. This is no exaggeration. People with poor health can’t perform effectively on a daily basis. In an age of metabolic disease, employee health is now acknowledged to be one of the biggest workplace challenges. We can thank modern living habits and sedentary lifestyles for this. This article examines how a proper work culture focused on health can remedy this.

Common Ailments

Most people have colleagues at work with headaches, a cough, or some other ailment and they get worse. We find them taking a few days off, and when they come back they look no better. They are unable to focus in meetings, stare off into space, and their work is less dependable.

This is a common scenario in any office. It becomes worse with contagious illnesses that pass on to others in enclosed office spaces with central ventilation. The bottom line is, productivity is impacted because people can’t pull their weight if they are not well. Even with the most modern offices, the best tools like standing desks, cutting edge computers and focused décor, your employees can’t do their job if they aren’t well.

When employees aren’t able to give their best at the job, the company suffers. This results in lost business, dissatisfied clients and not being able to achieve business goals.

  • A study from Gallup and Healthways shows that for every 1,000 employees, an estimated $443,000 in productivity is lost each year due to unplanned sick leaves.
  • The Journal of Population Health Management found that $260 billion is lost each year in the US for work-related illnesses, not counting indirect losses aside from direct medical expenditures.

The corollary of this is that research from the Towers Watson group shows that companies with health and wellness programs had superior human capital and financial performance over companies that had ineffective or no wellness programs.

  • Shareholder returns among companies had 55.3% better.
  • The average revenue per employee was 11.2% higher at $483 per head.
  • The average market premium was 27.5% higher.

Employers have taken note; the Health Enhancement Research Organization did a survey of executive leadership and found that 90% of business leaders believe in the promotion of wellness for the betterment of employee productivity.

Five Ways to Measure your Employee Health

Health doesn’t just mean physical well-being, however. The Gallup-Healthways study identified five key elements of well-being. The holistic approach looks beyond the physical and tracks the key indicators in five areas:

  • Purpose – finding meaning and liking what they did every day
  • Social Relationships – having supportive relationships and love
  • Financial Security – the capacity to manage personal economics
  • Community – liking and feeling safe where one lives, pride in one’s community
  • Physical Well-Being – having good physical health and energy for daily activities

Their findings show that a small segment of the workforce was meeting the goals for physical well-being, but none of the other four. Despite being physically healthy, these employees did not perform as well compared to those with more complete well-being.

  • They missed out on 68% more work compared to employees who were doing well in all five key elements.
  • They were also three times more likely to file for worker’s compensation claims.
  • Were five times more likely to seek out a new employer in the following year.
  • They were also half as likely to exhibit adaptability to change.
  • They were 30% less likely to have volunteered in the community for corporate social responsibility.

How Stress Affects Health

Physical health isn’t the only thing to keep in mind, and one of the biggest problems here is employee stress. While stress in moderate levels can be a good way to motivate and encourage employees to work harder, at extreme levels stress negatively impacts employee performance.

The three largest drivers for stress were:

  • Excessive work hours – 78% of respondents
  • Lack of work/life balance – 68% of respondents
  • Fears on job security – 67% of respondents

The Towers Watson survey also cites other sources of stress:

  • A lack of teamwork
  • Unclear or conflicting expectations
  • A lack of tools and resources to do the job
  • A lack of confidence in senior leadership

These are non-physical concerns, but they all have a negative impact on employee health and in turn employee productivity.

Musculoskeletal Illnesses

Physical issues are a major stumbling block for many employees. Physical disability is a chronic problem and most pervasive are musculoskeletal and back disabilities. The Tower Watson study highlights that 75% of all short term disabling conditions in the US are due to musculoskeletal and back problems, and 66% of all long-term disabilities. Musculoskeletal/back problems are mostly the result of poor posture.

Workers who are exposed to static work are the highest at risk for musculoskeletal disorders, and this characterizes most office environments today. Preventing poor work posture is easy with proper workstation design and tools.

The Occupational Safety and Health wiki notes the proper posture has the body erect along the frontal plane and straight along the sagittal plane.

The risk for neck pain increases when the neck flexes more than 20° along the frontal plane for 40% of work time. Back pain is more likely if the trunk posture exceeds 30° for more than 15 minutes.

Remedies for Musculoskeletal Illness

A workstation like a standing desk improves posture by taking the pressure off the neck and lower back. This keeps the body at a 0° trunk posture. Studies have shown that patients with back pain experienced a 50% decrease in pain by switching to sit-stand desks.

It is important to look after employee’s well-being in a holistic manner. The first step to a truly healthy workforce is recognizing that employees have more than just physical needs. A strong sense of purpose, healthy and supportive social relationships, financial security, and a community they can belong to all matter. With these, business leaders can take action and commit to the sustained well-being of their employees.

In future posts, we will discuss concrete steps that businesses can take to create a healthier work culture. Taking the first step and recognizing the need for health and productivity programs is half the battle. Communicating this to employees and letting them know that their well-being is your priority makes a huge difference. Healthy employees do better work, so start fostering that kind of workplace culture today.

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