This week an article appeared in the CBC news feed titled Workplace Wellness Returns Few Benefits. It speaks to a study in the U. S. that looked at the return on investment for wellness initiatives at work and whether these initiatives are actually helping employees. The outcome of the study was not positive. This is the first published study of its kind and the researchers state strongly that more research needs to be done. What I found interesting is it solely focused on giving employees access to more benefits (benefits by the way that many of us enjoy in Canada through group insurance or Medicare), like dieticians and other health care providers, and how it didn’t actually lower the costs of company-paid medical benefits, nor did it have any clinically measurable impact on the health of the employees (as compared to a control group without the additional support in the same organization). It did not measure employee performance outcomes (i.e. sales and service for the locations with the increased benefits), revenue generated, nor did it baseline or determine the level of stress in the workplace itself (and its impact on employees) before beginning the study.
I juxtapose the article in CBC with a recent article from the Stanford School of Business titled The Workplace is Killing People, and Nobody Cares which is based on the work of Jeffery Pfeffer in his book Dying For a Paycheck. Pfeffer’s book takes the position that more research is being conducted on the impact of stress and human well-being …and the causes of the stress that is impacting people’s health. Shooting up the list of causes (beating out poor diet and exercise) is …you guessed it, work. To quote Pfeffer “I look out at the workplace and I see stress, layoffs, longer hours, work-family conflict, enormous amounts of economic insecurity. I see a workplace that has become shockingly inhumane.”
I mention these articles because increasing employee health and welfare at work is not an isolated responsibility that only employees own; it’s a partnership. While employees have choices they can make to sustain, or increase, their physiological and mental health (including talking to their employer about what they need), everyone needs to make a living and many will do so in an environment that has negative consequences for their health. From punishing commutes to feeling insecure at work, the levels of stress in the workplace are rising and have been for some time. No one wants to put their livelihood in jeopardy; many remain in stressful environments out of fear of the consequences if they don’t.
Not everyone’s workplace is toxic, or the biggest cause of stress in their lives; clearly a lot more research needs to be done to determine what the right actions are to address both the health care crisis in our societies, and the well-being crisis in our workplaces. However, one thing stood out in reading these two articles together. Until employers start to own the way work (leadership styles, workplace culture and expectations) impacts health, all the help we provide to our employees, whether through wellness programs or (as in the case in Canada) through a publicly funded Medicare services, will only be a band aide on a problem that both anecdotally, and statistically, is growing ever more critical.
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I believe in empowering others in many tangible ways. When I learn new career strategies or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website.