Wellness – The Research

Wellness Programs Work!

The increase in preventable disease and workplace injury, resulting from unhealthy living and low levels of physical activity, are a major cause of workplace absence or disruption in today’s workforce. Many workplaces are reporting high levels of sick leave, high staff turnover rates, high stress levels amongst workers, poor job satisfaction, workplace accidents, reduced productivity and increasing health-related litigation.
A number of reports outline the current picture of Australia’s health and provide a background for using the workplace as a setting to improve health. In 2006 the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS, 2006) reported figures that were cause for concern, including that 70 per cent of Australians aged 15 years and over were classified as sedentary or having low exercise levels and that of these 70 per cent, just under half (48 per cent) recorded no or very little exercise in the previous two weeks and were classified as sedentary while 52 per cent recorded a low level of exercise.
Many chronic health issues have been linked to sedentary behaviour. Sedentary lifestyle is considered to be a major contributor to adverse health outcomes such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, depression and stroke (Schofield et al., 2009; AIHW, 2008; Medibank Private, 2009). There is also increasing evidence of sedentary behaviour being linked to reduced productivity through absenteeism and presenteeism in the workplace (Medibank Private, 2009).
The research is unanimous—poor health and physical inactivity is impacting on profits and productivity. The incidence of lifestyle disease in workers is also likely to escalate further as the Australian workforce ages, with a consequent reduction in productivity, increased risk of injury and elevated workplace costs. These are compelling reasons for employers to consider how the health of their workforce is compromising productivity and how they can take action to mitigate it. An increasingly important objective for business therefore is to try and optimise the health and health-related behaviours of its workforce in the work environment (i.e. ‘workplace wellness’) to minimise the impact of these issues.

The research is here…

The link between unaddressed workplace environmental/organisational factors and worker mental health and consequent absenteeism and illness is increasingly recognised. The literature is clear about the catalysts—poor workplace culture, ineffective managers, lack of work satisfaction, work repetition, work overload, lack of work-life balance, conflict with peers and bullying and harassment. This suggests that workplaces need to be placing more focus on intervening in these areas and demonstrating a commitment to implementing and evaluating the success of such programs.
In 2008, Aegis Consulting Australia prepared a study for the Health and Productivity Institute of Australia (HAPIA) indicating that workers who rank highly in terms of health and wellbeing have the highest performance at work, while those who are less healthy and complain of chronic pain, work far less.


Research Findings:

An unhealthy employee produces only 49 hours of work each month whereas a healthy person will produce about 140 hours a month. Employees with chronic pain take an average of 18 days sick leave each year compared with just 2 days for healthy employees.

Medibank Private provides further statistics in their research:

  • Employees with poor overall health status take up to nine times more sick leave than their healthy colleagues Healthy employees are nearly three times more productive than employees with poor health.
  • The financial cost of poor health and wellbeing is estimated at over $7 billion per year, nationally in Australia
  • A total of 3.2 days absent per worker per year were estimated to be as a result of workplace stress
Wellness in the workplace
Numerous studies have examined the effectiveness of injury and illness prevention programs at both establishment and corporate level. They demonstrate that such programs are effective in transforming workplace culture; leading to reductions in in juries and illness; lowering workers’ compensation and other costs; improving morale and communication; enhancing image and reputation; and improving process, products and services.

Corporate Work Health Australia design strategies which focus on the following three key areas in helping companies reduce their injuries, improve worker health, and boost their productivity levels:

1. Lifestyle practices (voluntary health practices)

Reducing the risk or incidence of worker illness by addressing individual worker lifestyle behaviours through awareness raising, education, supportive environments, and policy.

2. Organisational change (organisational culture)

Improving job satisfaction and productivity by changing worker attitudes and perceptions, management practices, and the way work is organised. These factors have been shown to have a dramatic impact on employee health outcomes.

3. Occupational health and safety

Reducing work-related injury, illness, and disability by addressing environmental issues in the workplace, such as ergonomics, chemical hazards, and air quality.