More healthy programs, more healthy employees

Study shows the more programs an organization has in place, the better the chance of seeing workplace health increase

The private sector has much healthier employees than the public sector. Workloads continue to make employees sick. Wellness programs aren’t having much impact on employee wellness.

These are just some of the findings from the latest effort to measure the value and effect of healthy workplace initiatives.

The Canadian Labour and Business Centre (CLBC) surveyed more than 1,100 business and labour leaders from the public and private sectors on healthy workplace practices and their sense of the overall health of their organizations. The report, Viewpoints 2002: Healthy workplace practices, is available at the CLBC Web site,

“Having a healthy workplace, having healthy employees, is more than just slapping in one or two programs,” said François Lamontagne, senior researcher for the CLBC. It takes comprehensive programs combining a number of different practices.

“There is no silver bullet to workplace health,” he said, but the study clearly showed that the more programs in place the healthier the workforce is likely to be. “The more programs you have, the more chance you have of seeing workplace health increase.”

About 15 per cent of management respondents from organizations with no programs felt their employees’ health had improved over the last two years, while 50 per cent of those with five to 10 programs in place reported an improvement.

Lamontagne said it remains difficult to precisely capture the cause and effect of workplace health and wellness initiatives simply because many respondents can’t isolate the effect of a program without accounting for other factors. Nevertheless, the correlational evidence is compelling, he said.

In most cases organizations that have introduced these programs are convinced about the value and are not overly concerned with trying to precisely quantify the impact of programs, he said.

Respondents were asked about the presence of 10 specific practices:

•joint health and safety committees;

•lifestyle information;

•flexible working hours;

•employee involvement initiatives;

•active lifestyle programs;

•monitoring of safety/health/wellness impacts;

•joint wellness committees;

•work-life balance initiatives;

•wellness needs assessments; and

•self-directed work teams.

By far the most common is joint health and safety committees with 64 per cent of private-sector managers and 85 per cent of public-sector managers reporting their workplaces have one in place.

Many respondents still reported the overall health of their organizations has worsened in the past two years, though the problem was considerably worse in the public sector.

Nearly 40 per cent of public-sector managers said the “overall health” of their organizations was either worse or significantly worse than it was two years ago. Nearly 30 per cent said it was better or significantly better.

In the private sector, slightly more than 15 per cent said things have deteriorated and nearly 50 per cent said it was better.

Things also looked very different from the union perspective however. More than 80 per cent of labour leaders in the public sector said overall health was worse or significantly worse and more than 50 per cent of private-sector leaders said things had worsened since 2000.

This is cause for concern, though respondents are generally in agreement on the reason for this, said Lamontagne. “Increased workload was by far the most important cause of declining workplace health.”

Respondents who said health had improved were also asked which programs had the most positive impact. Lamontagne said they were surprised to find that wellness programs were not a significant factor in improving workplace health. Improved communication and increased employee training were cited by managers as having the greatest effect.

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