Business of Well-being

Health: The Productivity Factor

Health: The Productivity Factor

We've heard that health can improve a worker's productivity by improving their physical capacity. But to be more accurate, improved health can improve a worker's ability to be more productive. Productivity is largely a factor of an employee's desire to work. Just because they have the physical capacity to do more work doesn't necessarily mean they will.  

Recent evidence has emerged to indicate that perhaps workplace health programs do in fact play that pivotal role in enhancing an employee's desire to work. The human factor is simultaneously an organization's greatest asset, and its greatest liability. High performing, healthy and productive employees are the gears that drive a business whilst a dive in employee productivity applies brakes to those gears ultimately slowing profits.

All of a sudden it takes longer and costs more to produce the same product or service  it did when employees were at their peak. Job engagement refers to higher levels of vigor, dedication and absorption in daily activities. It's about an employee's desire and willingness to work hard as a member of your team. Job engagement should not be confused with job satisfaction. Macy and Schneider defined engagement to have both emotional and behavioral components, with emotional relating to feelings of focus and enthusiasm while behaviors are displayed by proactivity and persistence.

In many instances, job satisfaction may contribute to a willingness to give high effort, however satiation doesn't guarantee the energy and focus defined by engagement. Achieving optimal performance requires delicate management; hovering on the fine line between enforcing key performance expectations and pushing past it to stress, burnout and resentment.

In the same way,  reward systems need to elicit a desire to work, yet not be too generous, nor completely beyond reach and subsequently encourage mediocre attitudes. There are many benefits at an organizational level of enhancing employee job engagement, the obvious being productivity,  however there are also significant rewards at a personal level.

Employees who are more engaged in their jobs are happier, have better home lives and remain healthier than those who are not according to research from Kansas State University. Therefore organizational kick-backs extend beyond productivity and may include numerous health dividends, such as reduced absenteeism, improved retention and reduced medical or injury costs.

What factors can we influence that can help sustain an employee's drive? Is it simply a measure of how well we dangle carrots? Financial incentives and key performance indicators obviously play a role, yet they are industry specific and dependant on aspects such as job type and demographics. There are however, key environmental and employee support mechanisms which do play a significant role in enhancing job engagement which can benefit both your business, as well as your employees and their families.

A workplace health and wellness program represents an effective and potentially cost efficient mechanism for improving employee job engagement. In addition to health cost reductions for your organization, it also demonstrates a genuine commitment to your people - a key motive for engagement. According to the Towers Perrin Global Workforce Study, senior management interest in employee wellbeing is the number one driver of employee job engagement.

This is in line with other research, such as Macy and Schneider, who confirm that the most important factors include fair treatment, and creating a sense of safety and trust , all demonstrated by a genuine and visible commitment to employee health and wellbeing.For workplace health and wellness programs to be most effective, they need to be ongoing and integrated into the daily operations of your organization. It's not enough to offer your employees an annual health screening or quarterly lunch and learn.

Your employees want a sincere demonstration of commitment to their wellbeing. Health needs to be a shared long term vision with ongoing support, and in return for this commitment, your people will show commitment to the organization. Job engagement and workplace wellness programs are more intimately related than some may assume.

They work in tandem, helping each achieve their targeted outcomes. Workplace health programs aim to improve the health, energy levels and resilience of employees. When implemented effectively, they help educate and incorporate strategies to empower employees to be more accountable for their health behaviors, and to encourage work-life balance.

In addition, according to the results shown by Towers Perrin, they also play a huge role in providing employees the confidence and ability to become engaged in their job. Working in reverse, the absorption in one's work pays back into the health improvements and feelings of wellbeing - outcome targets of the wellness program.

Research shows that employees that are engaged in their jobs are happier, have better home lives, enhanced work-life balance and are ultimately healthier. These outcomes, driven by a successful workplace health program will produce significant returns for an organization not only in productivity boosts, but also in health cost reductions.

There are estimates that high performing companies are expected to pay, on average, around 12% less ($1,200 per employee) for health care in 2010 compared to poor performing organizations. We know that poor employee health becomes costly for companies. It also seems that poor work culture and an employee's interest in their job can contribute to declining health and performance.

Noxious work environments, job insecurity, interpersonal conflict and excessive pressure situations have all been linked to poor work-life balance. All of these conditions have been shown to increase the rate at which employees will cite work issues seeping into, and interfering with their home life. It's noted above that enhanced work-life balance is associated with improved health, mood and job engagement; it appears that the opposite is also true.

Those with deleterious work environments and lack of balance report higher rates of stress and are more likely to exhibit risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. Even after adjusting for other health damaging behaviors, chronic work stress made it twice as likely that men would develop symptoms of metabolic syndrome. Workplace wellness programs not only work to address the poor health outcomes, but they help to improve the culture and work environment.

There is somewhat of a sense of entitlement in modern society. Old school values of working hard for a paycheck, forging a career path through a single employer thus demonstrating commitment and loyalty towards that employer are fading. Employee job engagement is not as organic as it once was, and finding new ways to entice a sense of dedication from your workforce can have huge competitive value, particularly if it can reduce your production costs and rate of turnover.

If this solution concomitantly addresses the declining health that plagues our generation then it can have many immediate, and ongoing returns for your organization. Evidence continues to emerge in the literature that suggests that a comprehensive workplace health and wellness program may represent the best current solution.

As the number one driver of improving workplace culture and empowering  employees to take responsibility for their health and wellbeing it allows them the freedom and confidence to focus energy towards their work. Job engagement and health are closely linked, and should remain as a foundation to nurturing a productive, competitive and sustainable workforce moving forward.


1) Kansas State University (2009, August 25). Employees Who Are Engaged In Their Work Have Happier Home Life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 14, 2010, from

2) William H. Macey and Benjamin Schneider. “The Meaning of Employee Engagement”: Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 2008; 1 (1): 3-30

3) Towers Perrin. “2009 Health Care Costs Survey. The Health Dividend: Capturing the Value of Employee Health”, June 2009.

4) University of Toronto (2010, January 13). When work interferes with life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 14, 2010, from /releases/2010/01/100112135038.htm

5) T. Chandola, A. Britton, E. Brunner, H. Hemingway, M. Malik, M. Kumari, E. Badrick, M. Kivimaki, M. Marmot: “Work Stress and Coronary Heart Disease: What are the Mechanisms?”; European Heart Journal, Jan 2008 (doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehm584)

About The Author

Andrew Stephenson is the US Business Development Manager for Health by Design International, an award winning workplace health and injury prevention program provider. Working in the health industry in 3 countries over the past 7 years has provided abundant educational and professional development experiences.

With insight into effective practices in this industry from across the globe, Andrew is well qualified to help review your current health and productivity management approaches and identify areas where you can add real value.Health by Design International began in Australia over 15 years ago.

Specialists in providing sustainable, integrated workplace programs addressing both health risks, and injury prevention, they have gained international recognition for achieving ongoing high standards in both participation and behavior change. To find out more about their comprehensive solutions, contact Andrew directly via or view the website at

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