hospitalIn addition to health-related risk factors, some non-traditional "well-being risks" can have a significant impact on workers' 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).

Yuyan Shi, PhD, and colleagues of Healthways, Inc., Center for Health Research, Franklin, Tenn., used data from a large follow-up study to explore the impact of 19 potentially modifiable well-being risks on worker productivity. The study included traditional physical health (eg, obesity and high blood pressure) and health behavior risks (e.g., unhealthy diet and inadequate exercise).

In addition, the researchers looked at some less-traditional well-being risks that also might affect work productivity. These included social and emotional health risks (eg, poor emotional health and weak social support), work-related risks (eg, job dissatisfaction and poor supervisor support), and financial health risks (not being able to afford food, housing, and health care).

Workers whose total well-being risks decreased over time had improvement in several measures of productivity. A five percent reduction in well-being risks was linked to approximately a 0.75 percent decrease in absenteeism, a 2.40 percent decrease in "presenteeism" (time spent at work with reduced productivity), and a 0.25 percent increase in job performance.

Specific health risks independently related to decreased productivity included high blood pressure, recurring pain, unhealthy diet, inadequate exercise. Some of the less-traditional well-being risks also affected productivity, including poor emotional health, poor supervisor relationship, not using one's strengths on the job, and working for a company that was unsupportive of well-being.

These well-being risks help to account for some of the decreased productivity that cannot be explained by traditional health risk factors. At a time when many employers have programs to enhance worker health and productivity, further gains might be achievable through a more comprehensive, "holistic" approach to health promotion. Dr Shi and coauthors write, "Interventions targeting physical health, health behavior, social and emotional health would have the greatest impact on all productivity measures."

Citation — Shi Y, Sears LE, Coberley CR, Pope JE. The association between modifiable well-being risks and productivity: a longitudinal study in pooled employer sample. J Occup Environ Med. 2013;55(4):353-64.