Worker health and wellness

Workplace Health in America survey: ‘A lot of growing left to do’

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A recent survey of U.S. workplaces shows that almost half have some type of health and wellness program. It’s a finding that Jason Lang, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s lead for workplace health programs, described as a “mixed bag.”

“On the plus side, the findings suggest that these type of health and well-being programs in worksite settings continue to gain popularity,” Lang told Safety+Health. “On the other hand, we found that we still have less than half the employers who have these kinds of programs. We have seen growth, but there’s a lot of growing left to do.”

For the Workplace Health in America survey, researchers from CDC and the University of North Carolina surveyed 2,843 for-profit, nonprofit and government employers in all industry sectors and sizes throughout the United States between November 2016 and September 2017. They found that 46.1% of the respondents offered some form of health and wellness program.

The survey, as well as CDC’s follow-up “Workplace Health in America 2017” summary report (available at sh-m.ag/2ProvqV), comes after a similar 2004 survey in which only nongovernment workplaces with 50 or more employees were included.

The value of workplace health promotion programs is simple, Lang said.

“For the employee, it can enhance their life satisfaction and well-being,” he said. “On the employer side, healthier employees are more productive employees. A healthy, robust workforce of employees can really give an employer a competitive advantage.”

The percentage of workplaces with a health promotion program increased with the size of the employer, ranging from 39.1% of worksites with 10-24 employees, to 59.6% of worksites with 50-99 employees, to 91.8% of worksites with 500 or more employees. Other findings:

  • Among workplaces with at least one program, 69.2% have had it in place for more than three years.
  • Only 25.5% of workplaces surveyed offer health risk assessments to employees. The percentage was highest among employers with 500 or more workers (68.7).
  • Among workplaces with a health promotion program, 41% did not have a committee to promote health, safety or both; 21.2% had separate wellness and safety committees; and 17.5% combined the two.
  • 11.8% had all five elements of a comprehensive health promotion program: health screening programs, integration of health promotion into organizational structure, health education programs, links to related programs, and supportive social and physical environments. In 2004, only 7% of workplaces had health promotion programs that met these criteria.
  • The most popular specific health programs were related to physical activity (28.5%), nutrition/healthy eating (23.1%), stress management (19.6%), tobacco cessation (18.5%) and obesity/weight management (17.4%).

What’s your budget?

The researchers also found that 35.6% of workplaces have no budget for their programs.

“If you don’t put any money into your program, what can you really expect to get out of it?” Lang asked. “I don’t think those expectations are always in line.”

Lang suggested that employers make use of their local environment, such as a local park with a walking path, encourage employees to use stairs in the building or convert meeting space into a place where yoga mats can be spread out for a class.

“You didn’t build it, but you can take advantage of it,” Lang said.

Pumping up participation

Results of the survey show employee participation in physical activity programs was relatively low, with 84.3% of the workplaces estimating that less than half of their workers use them. This finding signals to Lang that employers must do more to break down barriers for employees to take part.

“It’s not so much what the employer offers,” said Lang, who encouraged them to focus on communication and flexibility. “How do you communicate it? Where do you offer it? When do you offer it? Do you tell people the value? Do you keep it low or no cost?”

Asking these questions increases opportunities for busy workers to access the programs. For employees, Lang recommended making small changes to adjust their lifestyle habits.

“It’s not trying to do a complete life overhaul all at once,” Lang said. “If you’ve got someone who’s a couch potato, you don’t want to set a goal right out of the gate of being a triathlete. Set realistic, small, short-term goals and get a sense of achievement, then build on that. If you go slow, you’ve got a much better chance.”

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