As companies increasingly face rising health costs and competition, comprehensive workplace health programs are becoming more widely used as a strategy for impacting employee health and productivity and, in turn, corporate bottom lines.
Comprehensive workplace health programs aim to reach employees through a variety of ways, including workplace policies, benefits, environmental changes, and programs and services available for employees, spouses, and dependents.
However, each company and its employees is unique and the strategies used to address employee health will vary from company to company based on the resources available, needs and interests of management and employees, and health issues that are priorities.
A key question for wellness coordinators to ask is: How do you know which workplace health strategies will be most valuable for your particular company to implement?
Developing a comprehensive employee workplace health program, or making improvements to an existing one, requires an understanding of what impacts the health of employees at the worksite.
What is workplace health assessment
- A workplace health assessment is a process of gathering information about the factors that support and/or hinder the health of employees at a particular workplace and identifying potential opportunities to improve or address them
- A workplace health assessment helps to identify the current picture of health at a company as well as ways to improve it that can potentially increase productivity, decrease absenteeism, and control health care costs for both employees and the organization as a whole
- It is a necessary first step before goals are developed, resources allocated, strategies adopted and interventions implemented, employees participate, and outcomes are measured
Factors influencing workplace health1, 2
Many factors influence health in the workplace and can be impacted by supportive changes within the following levels of influence:
- Individual – elements of an employee’s health, such as their health behaviors, health risk factors such as high blood pressure, and current health status
- Interpersonal – elements of an employee’s social network including relationships with managers, coworkers, and family that provide support; mentoring or role models
- Organizational – elements of the workplace structure, culture, practices and policies such as benefits, health promotion programs, work organization, and leadership and management support for workplace health and safety initiatives
- Environmental – elements of the physical workplace such as facilities and settings where employees work as well as access and opportunities for health promotion provided by the surrounding community where employees live
How to conduct workplace health assessment
A workplace health assessment involves learning about a workplace and the health of its employees. Employee health is determined by a complex set of interactions between the individual and their social, cultural, and physical environments and can be influenced in many ways. It is important to assess employee health from a number of perspectives using multiple sources of data to gain a more complete picture of the determinants of health. For example, reviewing health care costs will provide information on which health conditions are the biggest contributors to the total, but do not provide insight into what factors contribute to those conditions.
The types of data sources that will be available will depend on the workplace. Some data is readily available, other data may need to be requested from a third party, and some may not be currently available requiring a decision whether to collect it or not. The types of data sources used to gather information in a workplace health assessment may include:
- Site visits
Site visits are in person observations of the workplace setting and includes interviews with managers and employees to discuss health attitudes and beliefs; and review health promotion programs and policies; and evaluate the worksite environment for health risks
- Employee surveys
Examples of employee surveys include Health Risk Appraisals; employee satisfaction and interest surveys; safety surveys and routine inspections
- Health benefits
The type of coverage and covered services employee receive under the health plan; vacation and sick time; access to health promotion programs
- Health care and pharmaceutical claims
A source for identifying the common health conditions and procedures for which employees are seeking health care and their costs
- Other data sources
Examples include time and attendance; injury; and participation in, satisfaction with, or outcomes from other employee health programs
Other data sources may also provide information that will be useful for designing and evaluating a workplace health program. Such data sources include data on injury prevalence, causes and workers compensation; absenteeism; use of existing health programs such as EAP or fitness facilities. A possible list of data sources is provided in table below.
Other Additional Sources of Data Relevant to Worksite Health
|Number of injuries, percentage of employees with injuries, cost of injuries, days lost by types of injuries, time to return to work||By worksite
|Attendance||Number of absences by reason||By worksite
|Use of EAP||Number of employees and number of sessions and cost by presenting problem||By worksite By unit||EAP Vendor Activity Summary|
|Job Satisfaction||Ratings of Job Satisfaction, Communication, and Support||By worksite By unit||Employee Engagement Survey|
Overall, a workplace health assessment can help make connections between the various types of risk factors affecting employee health at the individual, intrapersonal, organizational, and environmental levels that are supported through multiple pieces of data. It will help develop a deeper profile of what is going on at a workplace to help inform a workplace health improvement plan for initiating a workplace health program or making enhancements to an existing program. The key questions a workplace health assessment can help answer are:
- What are the key health issues affecting employees?
- What factors at the worksite influence employee health?
- What are the employees’ health and safety concerns?
- What strategies are most appropriate to address these health issues?
- A workplace health program at Duke University has dedicated efforts to assist employees in controlling high blood pressure and cholesterol and has demonstrated a positive return on investment for its blood pressure ($1.21 to $1.00) and cholesterol programs ($3.39 to $1.00)
- The CDC Healthier Worksite Initiative Swift Worksite Assessment and Translation (SWAT) evaluation method allows for rapid assessment of worksite health promotion programs that help employees focused on healthy body weight
1. Sallis JF, Bauman A, Pratt, M. Environmental and policy interventions to promote physical activity. Am J Prev Med. 1998;15(4): 379-397.
2. McLeroy KR, Bibeau D, Steckler A, Glanz K. An ecological perspective on health promotion programs. Health Educ Q. 1988;15:351–77.