Can Employee Health Programs Improve Productivity?

by Matt Weik

It’s a fact that individuals who do not take care of their health are more prone to illness. This can be anything from the common cold to a disease. No matter the illness, this causes people to miss time at work to manage their illness. On the lighter side of the spectrum, things like a cold or flu can knock people on their butt for a couple days. Calling off of work for a day or two isn’t the end of the world, but when you look at it from a company wide standpoint, if many employees are getting sick and taking off a couple days here and there, that can add up quickly in terms of slowing down a business. So, how do we fix this problem so not only can employees stay healthy, but have less absenteeism by not getting sick as often?

Your job is to take care of your health

Let’s look at this from a macro level. A business is comprised of employees. Those employees were hired to complete certain jobs and tasks. If that employee misses work due to illness, everything they were working on comes to a halt unless someone is able to cover for them and resume responsibilities on their projects. When no one is able to work on projects during an absence, the brakes are pumped when it comes to productivity. As a business owner, this can result is lost revenue—not a good thing. Therefore, business owners want to do everything possible to keep their employees coming to work and completing tasks to further build and grow the business. However, most owners and executives are missing one key thing when it comes to keeping their employees walking through the door Monday through Friday—their health. It seems like health gets forgotten about because it isn’t valued by the owner and executives because many times they, themselves, are not focused on their own health and wellness. Therefore, business owners need to take a new approach to keep absentee levels to a minimum, and that’s through employee health and wellness programs.

You are no go to your company, your family, or yourself if your health is failing. For many suffering from obesity, their life becomes a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. Every day becomes a flip of a coin on whether or not they could come down with an illness or have a sudden life-threatening health problem. Researchers for a while now have been looking at how health can affect the workplace. Is the amount of time invested into a health and wellness program worth it in the long run, or are businesses simply wasting their money? The University of Michigan led a study to understand this very question.

Researchers “weigh” in on the subject

One of the researchers from the University of Michigan stated, “A concern shared by both employers and employees is that time spent in the program attending the physician and dietitian visits, and the vigilance required to maintain lifestyle modifications, might diminish time and productivity on the job. However, we found that participation in our program was highly valued and had a positive impact at work.” Let’s face it, you can’t complete your job or take care of your family if you’re dead. So, why do so many people not think twice about their health? You would imagine if someone was constantly sick or found daily activities to be difficult to complete due to their health or weight that they would change something with their life, no? I mean, in my head that makes sense. Make a change to allow your life to become easier—it’s not a difficult concept to grasp. And that is where some businesses have finally stepped in by implementing health and wellness programs or even a specific weight management program like what the researchers at the University of Michigan used.

The program that the university put together was actually a fairly long and extensive weight management plan. The program was conducted for 2 years and focused on individuals who were considered obese. The individuals who agreed to be part of the study were to visit with a doctor and dietitian on a regular basis. From the 92 people who agreed to be participants, their average weight was around 253 pounds with a BMI of around 40. Each participant was given an 800 calorie per day diet plan to follow.

The first three months of the study, the researchers had the individuals utilizing meal replacements to manage their calories in hopes that within that time frame they could lose 15% of their body weight from the start of the program. While this extremely low calorie diet is not recommended for everyone, it was the plan the researchers felt would yield the best results and was conducted under the supervision of professionals. After the three-month period of meal replacements, the researchers changed the program over to real food options that were low calorie. They were hoping that the participants would adhere to the program the way they set it up and would allow them to apply the concepts to their daily lives after the program ended.

Each participant in the study was asked to complete a questionnaire at the beginning of the study and then again at the 6-month mark to check their progress. The questionnaire asked how often the individual missed work due to illness as well as their overall productivity at work during the time frame. When looking at the results after just 6 months, each of the participants in the study lost an average of 41 pounds. The researchers also found that the participants prior to the study were working 5.2 hours less than what their position called for on average. At the 6-month mark, they were found to be working 6.4 more hours than what was required by the company. This meant that they were able to work longer days than before the program began. Yet, the odd thing that the researchers noticed, was that the participants on their questionnaire showed really no change in their overall productivity at work during the day (it was scored on a scale from 1-10 and the improvement was on 0.1). The researchers mentioned they believe that as time goes on, productivity levels will improve.

To finish off the study, the researchers mentioned that, “Our findings suggest that, through favorable effects on work attendance, participation in a weight management program may be mutually beneficial for workers and their employers.”

1.) Materials provided by The Endocrine Society. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

2.) The Endocrine Society. “Participation in a weight management program reduces job absenteeism.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 April 2017. .

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