Health and Medicine

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health study shows workplace health promotion programs are growing

Nearly half of all workplaces in the nation offer some level of health promotion or wellness programs.

People in a yoga class.
(Photo by Campus Recreation)

Workplace health promotion programs are increasing in the United States, according to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and RTI International. Nearly half of all workplaces in the nation offer some level of health promotion or wellness programs, and 17% of workplaces with 50 or more employees offer comprehensive workplace health promotion programs.

Laura Linnan, professor in the Gillings School’s Department of Health Behavior and founding director of the Carolina Collaborative for Research on Work and Health, is lead author of the paper, “Results of the Workplace Health in America Survey,” published online April 22 by the American Journal of Health Promotion.Maija Leff, project director for the Carolina Collaborative for Research on Work and Health, is a co-author on the paper.

The 2017 Workplace Health in America Survey is the most recent national survey of workplace health promotion programs, and the first of its kind in 13 years. The survey assessed the current status of employer-based health promotion programs (addressing nutrition, stress, physical activity, alcohol and substance abuse, sleep and a variety of other health topics), as well as health screenings, disease management, the use of incentives to encourage participation and health changes, work-life policies, implementation barriers and occupational safety and health.

“Most American adults work, and many spend half or more of their waking hours at work,” Linnan said. “Where we work, how long we work, the conditions of our work, who we work with – all of these factors impact our health. Employers have an opportunity to shape work environments and work conditions in ways that support employee health. The WHA Survey identifies gaps in knowledge to help practitioners and researchers set the agenda for future progress in worker and workplace health.”

Approximately 12% of worksites offered comprehensive workplace health promotion programs, which include supportive social and physical environments, linkages to related programs, health education programs, integration of programs into the organization’s structure, and health screenings with appropriate follow-up and education. Researchers found three factors were independent predictors of having a comprehensive health promotion program: at least one person who was assigned responsibility for the program, a budget and several years of experience with health promotion programming.

“Employers who are serious about developing a program that has long-term impacts on employee health should strive to use this information to create a safe and healthy work environment for all,” said Linnan. “With a relatively small investment in staffing and budget, along with a commitment to linking safety and health programming, employers can have a lasting positive effect on employee health. Our results suggest that small employers will need some special focused attention, as they tend to offer fewer health programs, policies and benefits than larger employers. Given that small employers tend to have some resources for safety, one strategy is to look for ways to integrate safety and health promotion programs in ways that create a culture of health for all employees.”