Workplaces Are Sick Too

September 24, 2009 ( - A new study indicated that many Americans are not only suffering from issues with their health coverage, but work at unhealthy workplaces.

That was the key finding of the “2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce ” by Families and Work Institute authors Kerstin Aumann and Ellen Galinsky.

To support their suggestion of unhealthy workplaces, Aumann and Galinsky point to the fact that:

  • employees’ physical health shows downward trends, with men’s health deteriorating more than women’s;
  • a large proportion of the workforce shows signs of clinical depression;
  • sleep problems are pervasive;
  • stress levels are rising.

“The work environment-where each of us spends most of our waking hours-has a considerable impact on our health and well-being,” the study report indicated. “Improving the work environment is a low- to no-cost investment that every employer should make if we are truly to reform health care, reduce spiraling health care expenditures and actually improve health in America.”

Data from the group's latest survey found the percentage of employees rating their overall health as excellent was 28% in 2008, down from 34% in 2002. The percentage of people reporting that they never experience minor health problems such as headaches or upset stomachs was 36% in 2002 and 29% in the 2008 poll.

The authors also point out that a quarter of all employees smoke, most don't exercise regularly, and 62% are overweight or obese.

The study suggested that six criteria could help judge the health of a workplace including climate of respect; supervisor task support; job challenge and learning; autonomy; economic security; and work-life fit. According to the study, employees are more likely to be engaged and satisfied in their jobs when they work in effective workplaces, as defined by the six criteria.

"The United States has a system where health-care promotion and protection are the purview of employers," the authors wrote. "Whether or how much this role begins to shift, our findings argue convincingly that employers must consider another role beyond providing health-care insurance and wellness programs. Every workplace, small or large, can undertake efforts to treat employees with respect, give them some autonomy over how they do their jobs, help supervisors support employees to succeed on their jobs, and help supervisors and co-workers promote work-life fit."

The report is available here .