Study: Worker Health, Productivity Efforts Pay Off

December 6, 2005 ( - A growing number of large employers are stepping up programs to make their workers both more productive and healthy.

Furthermore, employers that are aggressively implementing health and productivity practices are seeing their efforts pay off with lower costs, reduced lost time and improved worker health, according to a Watson Wyatt news release announcing a new survey of 275 employers. The poll was conducted along with the National Business Group on Health.

More than four out of 10 (41%) employers polled already incorporate health and productivity initiatives into their overall health care planning, while nearly one-third (32%) plan to do so within the next year, the 2005/2006 Staying@Work Survey found.

“Employers recognize that a healthy and productive workforce directly impacts their bottom line,” said Shelly Wolff, national director of health and productivity consulting at Watson Wyatt in the news release. “With many different factors affecting their employees’ health and productivity, employers are taking action.”

The health and productivity measures companies are turning to include (with the percentage of companies offering in 2005 or 2006 and the percentage offered in 2003 respectively):

  • Employee Assistance Program 94%, 88%
  • Return-to-Work Program 81%, 56%
  • Health Promotion Program 75%, 56%
  • Health Risk Appraisals 72%, n/a
  • Work and Family Balance 71%, 44%
  • Paid Time Off Banks 40%, 36%
  • Personal Health Coach/Advocate 40% n/a.

Multiple Practices Bring Success

The study found that employers that integrate areas such as workers’ compensation, disability, sick leave and family medical leave are more effective at achieving desired outcomes. These outcomes include reduced lost time, improved workforce health and lower costs.

However, study results show a large gap in employer efforts to hold workers accountable for their health and productivity. While three out of four employers (74%) believe that their employees should be held accountable to a great extent for improving, managing and maintaining their health, only 4% think their employees are being called to task over the issue.

To effectively manage employee health and productivity, employers will need to overcome barriers such as lack of actionable metrics (46%) and inadequate access to data (43%). Organizations that measure the return on investment of their programs report lower sick leave costs than those that do not (1.7% of payroll versus 2.6%, respectively).

Meanwhile, according to the study, the issues that most affect employee productivity are:

  • stress (72%)
  • personal/family issues (59%)
  • chronic medical conditions (58%)
  • unscheduled absences (57%)
  • presenteeism (49%)
  • lifestyle medical conditions (49%).

Copies of the survey report are available for purchase here .