New Study of 19,000 American Workers is Expected to Be Game-Changer for Wellness Industry: Highlight

New Study of 19,000 American Workers is Expected to Be Game-Changer for Wellness Industry: Highlights Non-Traditional Risks Associated with Absenteeism and Business Performance

Challenges Conventional Wisdom on What Spurs Productivity

NASHVILLE, Tenn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- A year-long, groundbreaking study that tracked the well-being of 19,000 American workers in their personal and work lives creates a powerful new framework for understanding often ignored, less traditional risks that have a significant impact on absenteeism, productivity and performance. No study has previously looked at a comprehensive assessment of well-being risks and how they affect productivity over time. Traditionally, the wellness industry has solely used measures of health risks to explain differences in employee productivity. The new study finds that, compared with using health-related risks alone, the increase or decrease of a broader and more comprehensive category of risks affecting individual well-being has a much greater correlation to these productivity differences. The study is published in the April edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM).

"This study should be a wake-up call to business and the wellness industry that a focus on physical health alone is insufficient," said James O. Prochaska, Ph.D., Director of Cancer Prevention Research Center and Professor of Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Rhode Island, who developed the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change. "We need to be considering the comprehensive range of well-being risks that influence productivity, not just illness and health behaviors."

The new peer-reviewed study conducted with employees at five large companies looks at 19 modifiable well-being risks from multiple important areas and suggests strong evidence between productivity and these risks. Prior studies focused on cross-sectional observations of just physical health-related risks collected at a single time. These new findings could help to transform the way in which employers define "risk" and intervene to improve workforce productivity, performance and absenteeism.

Researchers looked at modifiable well-being risks, such as emotional health, social support, job satisfaction, the nature of supervisor support and individual financial health. Workers whose total well-being risks decreased over time showed improvement in several measures of productivity.

"For the first time, we understand the impact of overall well-being on productivity over time, not just the impact of an individual's physical health," said Lindsay Sears, Ph.D., co-author of the study and Principle Investigator of Healthways Center for Health Research. "These findings, taken from several large employers, demonstrate that productivity can be enhanced relatively quickly through improved well-being, which can yield significant near-term gains and build an important business case for employers."

While this study was not intended to evaluate program effects, it is important to note that researchers observed an overall positive trend for all productivity measures during the study period when the employers implemented multidimensional workplace well-being interventions.

The study's other key findings include:

  • A reduction in well-being risks over time was linked to decreases in absenteeism, "presenteeism" (time spent at work with reduced productivity) and an improvement in job performance
  • Poor emotional health (anxiety, stress, depression) and inadequate exercise had the greatest impact on productivity of any other health risks
  • In the study sample, 25% were able to reduce their physical health risks by one or more, 26% improved their health behaviors, 16% improved their social and emotional health and 31% and 13% of employees reduced their work-related and financial health risks, respectively
  • Those favorable changes were observed along with a 27% reduction in absenteeism, 8% to 15% decrease in presenteeism and almost 1% increase in job performance (all statistically significant differences on the basis of paired t test results)
  • The job performance improvement had an economic value of $468 per employee per year

"Simply put, this new science is a critical determinant for employers wanting to discern the underlying trends in productivity to help drive growth and performance," said Bruce Sherman, MD, FCCP, FACOEM, Medical Director at the Employers Health Coalition. "Linking performance and productivity solely to health risks is no longer a slam dunk for wellness researchers and forces us all to take a more holistic look at the promise of a multi-dimensional assessment of well-being." He went on to comment, "The study's comprehensive approach applied to five major companies, helps to more clearly characterize barriers for achieving higher workforce performance in clear terms, and can help organizations identify and address key drivers that powerfully influence a business and leave a lasting mark on productivity."

Multi-media offerings of the study's outcomes can be found at Healthways website.

About Healthways

Healthways (NAS: HWAY) is the largest independent global provider of well-being improvement solutions. Dedicated to creating a healthier world one person at a time, the Company uses the science of behavior change to produce and measure positive change in well-being for our customers, which include employers, integrated health systems, hospitals, physicians, health plans, communities and government entities. We provide highly specific and personalized support for each individual and their team of experts to optimize each participant's health and productivity and to reduce health-related costs. Results are achieved by addressing longitudinal health risks and care needs of everyone in a given population. The Company has scaled its proprietary technology infrastructure and delivery capabilities developed over 30 years and now serves approximately 45 million people on four continents. Learn more at

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