Strong Corporate Focus on Health Helps Employees

February 28, 2014 ( – There is a connection between healthy employees and companies with a strong focus on health issues, according to the results of a new survey.

The Consumer Health Mindset survey, conducted jointly by Aon Hewitt, the National Business Group on Health and The Futures Company, finds that employees who perceive their company as having a strong culture of health are happier, less stressed and more likely to take control of their well-being than their counterparts elsewhere.

The survey examines more than 2,700 employees and their dependents covered by large employer-sponsored health plans to determine employee perspectives, behaviors and attitudes towards health and wellness. In addition, they survey collected responses from employees who work at companies with strong cultures of health and compared them with responses from employees of companies that did not have such a strong focus on health issues.

Employees who work in strong cultures of health were more likely to say they have control over their health than those at companies where it is less of a priority (75% versus 63%). In addition, the group was less likely to report that stress has a negative impact on their work (25% versus 49%). Findings also show a link between strong health cultures and general happiness. Sixty-six percent of employees in strong health cultures say they are extremely or very happy with their lives, compared with 32% of those in weak health cultures.

“Many employees recognize the advantages of a healthy lifestyle, but may not have the time or motivation to take action,” says Joann Hall Swenson, health engagement leader at Aon Hewitt, based in Lincolnshire, Illinois. “Organizations that foster a strong culture of health, through leading by example and encouraging healthy activities, will cultivate a work force that demonstrates better health behaviors and is more actively engaged.”

Employees in strong cultures of health are more likely to take positive steps to improve their health, according to the survey results. Seventy-two percent had an annual physical in the past year and 62% exercised at least three days a week, compared with 64% and 49%, respectively, of employees at organizations with weak cultures of health. Seventy-seven percent participated in wellness programs, compared with 46% of those employed at companies where health is perceived to be a low priority.

“Over the last several years, employers have implemented a wide range of health promotion programs that foster strong cultures of health because they understand that healthy employees are engaged, happy and productive,” says Helen Darling, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health.

The survey finds that four factors appear to be the most influential in improving a company’s health culture:

  • Make health improvement a priority within the organization. Employers should demonstrate that they support workplace initiatives that improve employee health, and not only those that might save money. According to the survey, 94% of employees in organizations with strong cultures of health say health and wellness programs are a good business investment, while only 60% of those in weak cultures agree.
  • Actively encourage healthy activities during the workday. Employers should think through a day in the life of their employees, then identify and remove barriers to good health choices and habits. For example, they may allow employees to attend wellness programs during work hours, incorporate walking and standing meetings, or provide access to foods that are healthy and drive creative energy to support employee focus and performance. In addition, manager support makes a significant difference. Sixty-six percent of employees at organizations with strong cultures of health say their direct managers support their efforts to achieve their health goals, compared with 11% of employees at organizations with weak cultures of health.
  • Lead by example. Survey results show that the number one characteristic influencing perceptions of a weak culture of health were leaders who do not actively encourage employee health or serve as role models. To ensure employees feel supported in their health efforts, employers should find and celebrate employee role models, inviting them to tell their stories and visibly help others. Companies may look for executives willing to be transparent about a health struggle or achievement, or who would agree to be photographed or videotaped working out or making healthy choices in the cafeteria.
  • Recognize progress and results. Recognition of healthy employees had the fourth highest influence in driving perceptions of a strong health culture, according to the survey. Conversely, lack of recognition had the second highest impact in driving perceptions of weak culture of health. Organizations should celebrate employees who have made significant health strides and think about creating health competitions with meaningful rewards to generate excitement and participation.

In addition, experts with Aon Hewitt recommend the following steps to improve health engagement:

  • Design programs that are meaningful and relevant to the work force. Easy-to-do nutrition or health eating programs are one way. Employers may also want to consider implementing short-term programs that work once or twice—such as a 12-week weight loss challenge or a summer fitness program—instead of focusing on programs that have been around forever yet may not yield positive results.
  • Avoid a one size fits all approach. Employers should analyze their employee population and tailor incentives and program offerings to maximize relevancy to their target populations. Mobile-friendly websites, apps and targeted texting may be used to help motivate and engage employees in healthy campaigns. These include blogs geared to people with certain health conditions, location-based tools like Foursquare and media-sharing sites like Pinterest. Employers may also consider short-form video sharing services like Vine, particularly for younger consumers.
  • Pay attention to age or generational segments. For example, while employees under age 35 are often are assumed to be healthier due to their age, they may also be the most at-risk generation for future health issues.

More information about the survey can be found here.