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Redesigning work for health: New toolkit offers alternatives to wellness programs

Photo: fizkes/iStockphoto

Boston — Rather than provide worker wellness programs aimed at changing individual behaviors, employers should focus on reshaping work conditions that are the root cause of stress-related health problems, say researchers from a pair of Boston universities.

A new Work Design for Health framework, developed by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, provides maps on how to create work environments that foster worker health and well-being. An accompanying toolkit offers guidance and evidence-based strategies to help employers adjust their current environments.

The framework relies on three strategies to reshape conditions on the job:

  • Increase worker control over schedules and give workers a greater voice over conditions
  • Moderate job demands
  • Offer training and employer support to enhance social relations at work

Employers can save money by using the toolkit, the researchers contend. For instance, a wellness program costs about $700 an employee. By contrast, an extensive redesign initiative reviewed by the researchers was roughly half that cost.

On the toolkit website are examples and case studies of how the strategies have been implemented and tested in a variety of work settings.


“Workplace changes during the COVID-19 pandemic have shown employers that providing workers with more flexibility in where, when and how they work can be beneficial to employees and their organizations,” Meg Lovejoy, research program director of the Work and Well-being Initiative at the Center for Population and Development Studies at Harvard, said in a press release. “The return to more familiar workplace practices and settings offers a key moment for employers to consider how they can reshape the work environment to better promote worker well-being, engagement and retention.”

An outline of the toolkit was published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

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