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Job climate a factor in worker health, productivity


SAN FRANCISCO — Employees working in poor job climates are more than twice as likely to miss work due to common ailments, but embracing all factors in an employee’s well-being is twice as effective in curbing productivity losses — an approach several employers have used successfully.

“We can see from the research that not only are bad work climates associated with both higher rates of absences and poorer job performance, they also exacerbate the negative effects of mental and physical health symptoms,” said Kim Jinnett, executive vice president of the Integrated Benefits Institute.

She was commenting on IBI research, released at the IBI Annual Forum, held March 16-18 in San Francisco, that employees who had poor perceptions of jobsite safety, respect and trust among staff and managers, job engagement and satisfaction, and overall workload spent more than twice as much time off the job due to chronic pain, fatigue and difficulty sleeping, among other maladies.

Managers and supervisors who champion company wellness and health management programs can make a difference, Oakland, California-based health care provider Kaiser Permanente found via employee surveys.

“Where we have a lot of opportunity for improvement is in the area of what a supervisor can do to support individuals in leading healthy lives,” said Kathy Gerwig, vice president of employee safety, health and wellness at Kaiser Permanente. “We think so much about telling supervisors what they cannot talk to employees about, and we haven’t quite given them the words to have a conversation about health. So that’s some work we have ahead of us.”

Lemont, Illinois-based Argonne National Laboratory noticed a similar problem after polling its employees.

“We found out after a year or so that we weren’t getting through to the employees where we didn’t have the appropriate supervisor support,” said Dr. Jamie Stalker, Argonne’s division director of health and employee wellness.

So Argonne began holding educational boot camps to familiarize its working group leaders and supervisors with the company’s wellness program and train them on communicating the program to employees.

“In the two years since we started the boot camps, the light bulbs are beginning to go on across the workforce,” Dr. Stalker said. “I think that starts with our group leaders.”

In separate research also presented at the IBI conference, Franklin, Tennessee-based health care consultant Healthways Inc. found that a health management strategy that embraces the full scope of an employee’s well-being is more than twice as effective at curbing productivity losses as a wellness program centered solely on physical health.

“That’s the value difference that (chief financial officers) are going to care about when it comes to offering a traditional wellness program and a program that embraces this broader definition of well-being, whether it’s our definition or someone else’s,” said Jim Purvis, vice president of well-being improvement at Healthways.

Since integrating Healthways’ well-being assessment into its workplace wellness programs in 2011, the Irvine, California-based St. Joseph Health hospital system, which has 16 facilities in California and Texas, has reduced its number of at-risk employees in nine of 12 categories, including alcohol overuse, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, recreational medication use, low physical activity, stress and tobacco use.

“We feel that the investment is meaningful, because we can see from the data that we are influencing our employees’ health and well-being,” said Elizabeth Glenn-Bottari, St. Joseph’s vice president and chief operating officer of integrative health.