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Total Worker Health initiative matures into multipronged force, NIOSH expert says

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Washington — Over the past 15 years, NIOSH’s Total Worker Health initiative has developed into a multipronged, nationwide effort focused on advancing worker well-being, a health research scientist at the agency claims.

“Workers at and away from work are the focus,” Sara Tamers said during a June 20 webinar, Understanding Total Work Health: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going.

From its infancy in 2004, when it was called the Steps to a Healthier U.S. Workforce, TWH has grown to six Centers of Excellence, 45 affiliates (including the National Safety Council) and dozens of collaborations with professional associations, labor and health care organizations, academia, private industry, and the public sector.

Tamers said organization of work should be a focus for workers and employers alike, after the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked the United States 30th out of 38 countries in its 2017 study on work-life balance.

“We have a ways to go,” Tamers said. “Work-life balance is a concern for all workers, often depending on the stage of their life and career.”

NIOSH research shows that 40% of employees admitted difficulty working beyond normal business hours, while 30% said work-life balance is hampered by long commutes. Poor leadership, inflexible scheduling, lack of support and subpar communication are the top reasons why employees leave jobs, and those concerns can cause workers to suffer poor morale, fatigue, lack of productivity and physical ailments such as coronary artery disease.

“We need to embolden employees on work-life balance issues,” Tamers said. “There’s so much that can be done for very low to little cost (to the employer).”

 

Chia-Chia Chang, coordinator for partnership and new opportunity development at the Office of TWH, encourages employees to stress the benefits of a healthier workforce to company leadership, despite some workers not having regular communication with leaders. “Organization of work is totally within employer control,” Chang said. “Workers may not have access to the C-suite to make that Total Worker Health argument.”

Chang also discussed the growing reach of TWH, which hosted its second international symposium last year, featuring more than 100 partners and participants from 37 states and 15 countries. The growth of affiliates has advanced research on workplace issues and led to a growing library of resources for workers and employers.

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