PHYSICAL WELLNESS PROGRAMS
A 2013 Rand Corporation study (Mattke et. al) indicates that upwards of 69% of employers offer some sort of wellness program as a benefit with a roughly 75% participation rate by employees. A 2011 poll by Automatic Data Processing (ADP Research Institute, 2012) shows that three of the primary reasons for such a widespread offering of this benefit are that such programs lead to increased productivity, improved health, and reduced absenteeism.
The link between exercise and increased productivity has been studied for several years. The broad correlation is written about routinely in common publications. Major business publications write about how to get in the habit of exercising in order to increase productivity (Friedman, 2014). The CEO of Hootsuite, an award-winning tech start-up, went so far as to make the tongue in cheek argument that “it’s time we paid employees to exercise at work” (Holmes, 2015). Twitter even has its own on-site Crossfit gym where their CEO regularly exercises (Lev-Ram, 2015). With such support from leadership, there has to be some sort of data to back up all the money being laid-out by these businesses.
A 2008 study published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management (Coulson, McKenna, & Field, 2008) where a self-reporting group of 201 people, average age 38, consistently reported increased productivity on days they exercised as opposed to days they did not. Hogan, Mata, and Carstensen (2013) also found that exercise had observable benefits on response time and cognitive processing. Another study showed a 79% increase in work performance once a “workplace health promotion program” was implemented. (Mills, Kessler, Cooper, & Sullivan, 2007). These and many other studies consistently show a positive correlation between wellness programs and increased productivity.
Contrary to all of this, Sharifzadeh (2013) questioned multiple studies that all positively correlated exercise with increased productivity. He conducted a self-reporting study of 328 California State Polytechnic College of Business alumni that did not indicate a positive relationship between fitness and productivity. This was not taken as conclusive evidence of no relationship, however, but rather as evidence that further study was required (Sharifzadeh, 2013).
Exercise and workplace wellness programs have also been shown to reduce stress. A recent poll by Korn Ferry Institute showed that nearly 66% of people are more stressed about work than they were in previous years (Korn Ferry Institute, 2018). Periodicals routinely have articles on ways to reduce stress (Steinbrecher, 2018). Managers are encouraged to promote stress reducing activities, including exercise, to reduce associated healthcare costs (Ray, 2011).
Research indicates that exercise can inoculate against uncontrolled stress (Greenwood, & Fleshner, 2011). Many jobs have stressors that are out of the employees’ power to control. Late shipments, lunch-hour rush, or the next shift calling in sick at the last second are all common stressors that employees have no power to stop.
Dr. Erica Jackson (2013) even argues for exercise as part of a stress management treatment for individuals who have severe reactions to stressors. The physiological changes that happen as a result of putting it under controlled stress during aerobic exercise can temper the patient’s brain to better deal with the hormonal onslaught caused by triggering events. Even if a person can’t devote an hour at a time to exercise, a few minutes before work and throughout the day can help center a person (Jackson, 2013).
Possibly as a side effect of reducing stress, workplace wellness programs have been shown to reduce absenteeism. Absenteeism, normally seen as sick days or personal days, and the associated medical care can have substantial costs for a company. By reducing stress and improving health, companies tend to see a reduction in absenteeism (ADP Research Institute, 2012).
A recent Japanese study of employees for four pharmaceutical companies found that absenteeism and medical expenses cost on average $1685 per person per year (Nagata et al., 2018). Even more startling was the cost of presenteeism, lost productivity while sick at work, was over $3000 per person (Nagata et al., 2018). These figures are comparable those found in the American Productivity Audit, which estimated that lost productivity time from personal and family health reasons averaged about $1600 per employee per year (Stewart, Ricci, Chee, & Morganstein, 2003). One of the most cost-effective ways of reducing these losses is a workplace wellness program.
A year-long study conducted on 266 employees of a UK corporation saw a 45% reduction in health risk factors and 36% reduction in monthly absenteeism days as the result of a workplace health promotion program (Mills et al., 2007). The study further showed that the program yielded a return on investment of roughly six dollars for every dollar spent on the health promotion program.
Similar results were found by a group of Harvard economists in 2010 (Baicker, Cutler, & Song). They conducted analysis on thirty-six studies about employee wellness program and absenteeism. Employers saved an average of about three dollars in health care costs and three dollars in absenteeism costs for every dollar they spend on wellness programs (Baicker et al., 2010). Over half of the programs studied focused on weight loss and fitness and other risk factors, while a third had added incentives for participation.
Studies over the course of several decades consistently line up with anecdotal evidence to show that workplace fitness and overall wellness programs can increase productivity, reduce stress, and reduce absenteeism. Increased productivity could be the result of improved mood or from physiological changes in the brain. Reduced stress can be achieved through chemical changes that take place as a result of prolonged aerobic exercise or even a few brief time-outs for yoga. Absenteeism is reduced because general health improves with stress reduction and weight loss.
Management and C-suite leadership to encourage wellness programs and time for exercise when they are aware of the benefits. Increased productivity means more work gets done. Reduced stress leads to lower health care costs and increased productivity. Reduced absenteeism means an almost guaranteed return on investment. There is very little, if any, evidence against a workplace wellness program.
ADP Research Institute (2012). Why you should care about wellness programs. ADP Research Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.adp.com/tools-and-resources/adp-research-institute/research-and-trends/~/media/RI/whitepapers/Why-You-Should-Care-About-Wellness-Programs.ashx.
Baicker, K., Cutler, D., Song, Z. (2010, February 1). Workplace wellness programs can generate savings. Health Affairs, 29(2). doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2009.0626.
Coulson, J.C., McKenna, J., Field, M. (2008, September). Exercising at work and self-reported work performance. International Journal of Workplace Health Management, 1(3), pp. 176-197. doi: 10.1108/17538350810926534.
Friedman, R. (2014). Regular exercise is part of your job. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2014/10/regular-exercise-is-part-of-your-job
Greenwood, B. N., & Fleshner, M. (2011, July). Exercise, stress resistance, and central serotonergic systems. Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews, 39(3), pp. 140-149. doi: 10.1097/JES.0b013e31821f7e45
Hogan, C. L., Mata, J., Carstensen, L. L. (2013, June). Exercise holds immediate benefits for affect and cognition in younger and older adults. Psychology and Aging, 28(2), pp. 587-594. doi: 10.1037/a0032634.
Jackson, E. (2013, May/June). Stress Relief: The role of exercise in stress management. American College of Sports Medicine. doi: 10.1249/FIT.0b013e31828cb1c9
Korn Ferry Institute (2018, November 14). Workplace stress continues to mount. Reports & Insights. Retrieved from: https://www.kornferry.com/institute/workplace-stress-motivation.
Mattke, S., Kapinos, K.A. Caloyeras, J. P., Taylor, E. A., Batorsky, B. S., Harry H. Liu, H. H., et al. (2014). Newberry, workplace wellness programs: services offered, participation, and incentives. RAND Corporation. Retreived from: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR724.html.
Mills, P.R., Kessler, R. C., Cooper, J., Sullivan, S. (2007, September). Impact of a health promotion program on employee health risks and work productivity. American Journal of Health Promotion, 22(1), pp. 45-53. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/672b/12e1fb6138f955e8153e7fffbf20aa73c559.pdf.
Nagata, T., Mori, K., Ohtani, M., Nagata, M., Kajiki, S., Fujino, Y., et al. (2018, May). Total health-related costs due to absenteeism, presenteeism, and medical and pharmaceutical expenses in Japanese employers. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. doi:10.1097/JOM.0000000000001291.
Ray, A. (2011, December 20). To promote wellness, help employees reduce workplace stress. Society for Human Resource Management. Retrieved from: https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/reducestress.aspx.
Sharifzadeh, M. (2013). Does fitness and exercises increase productivity? assessing health, fitness and productivity relationship. American Journal of Management, 13(1), pp. 32-52. Retrieved from: http://www.na-businesspress.com/AJM/SharifzadehM_Web13_1_.pdf
Steinbrecher, S. (2018, May 29). 7 easy practices to reduce work stress. Inc. Retrieved from: https://www.inc.com/susan-steinbrecher/7-easy-practices-to-reduce-work-stress.html
Stewart, W. F., Ricci, J. A., Chee, E., Morganstein, D. (2003, December). Lost productive work time costs from health conditions in the United States: Results from the American productivity audit. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 45(12), pp 1234-1246. doi: 10.1097/01.jom.0000099999.27348.78.
PHYSICAL WELLNESS PROGRAMS
Physical Wellness Programs
University of Maryland
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Physical Wellness Programs
University of Maryland Global Campus