health newsChanges in employee health risk factors have a significant impact on work productivity, reports a study in the April Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

The productivity benefits of improved health are "cumulative over time," highlighting the need for companies to make "continuous investments in the culture of health," according to the study by Laura Haglund-Howieson, MBA, of StayWell in St Paul, Minn., and colleagues.

97,000 workers studied

The researchers analyzed health assessment surveys from nearly 97,000 workers between 2009 and 2011. The employees' "Health Risk Scores" were analyzed as predictors of work absenteeism as well as "presenteeism" — health-related issues limiting work ability.

At the initial survey, there was a "fairly strong correlation" between health risks and productivity. In addition, reductions in health risks between surveys were related to improved productivity in future years — an effect that was cumulative over time.

"The key implication is that health improvements must be maintained over time so the productivity impacts can accumulate," Haglund-Howieson and coauthors write. They note that average health risks decreased "slightly but significantly" over the three years of the study — probably because of the health promotion programs that were available to employees.

Other factors in play

The effects of changes in health risks were relatively small, suggesting that other factors not considered in the study also affect productivity. The researchers suggest that additional types of policies — such as flexible work times and worker recognition programs — may be necessary to improve productivity for all workers.

Citation — Grossmeier J, Mangen DJ, Terry PE, Haglund-Howieson L. Health risk change as a predictor of productivity change. J Occup Environ Med. 2015;57(4):347-54.

About ACOEM — ACOEM (, an international society of 4,500 occupational physicians and other health care professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.

About the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine — The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine ( is the official journal of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Edited to serve as a guide for physicians, nurses, and researchers, the clinically oriented research articles are an excellent source for new ideas, concepts, techniques, and procedures that can be readily applied in the industrial or commercial employment setting.