Management support is crucial for success of worker wellness plans

ANN ARBOR, Mich.--Buy-in from the boss, along with signs posted to encourage stair use and walking paths, result in more exercise and fewer sick days for employees, a University of Michigan study shows.

Researcher Mary Marzec and colleagues at the U-M School of Kinesiology’s Health Management Research Center analyzed the impact of environmental, population-based health interventions in the workplace, as opposed to more common focused programs, such as weight-loss or smoking-cessation classes. The difference is that environmental health interventions are built into the workplace and are available to every employee, regardless of health status.

In their study of 2,276 employees in the California Department of Health and Human Services from 2005 to 2007, the U-M researchers implemented 13 health interventions involving nutrition, light exercise and health awareness. They measured three outcomes before and after the interventions: how supportive the workplace environment was of employee health; employee health risks using health-risk appraisal questionnaires; and the three-month average of sick time before and after the interventions.

They found that after implementing the environmental interventions, the workplace scored 26 percentage points higher for overall support of heath. Despite aging among the employee population at the California government agency, employees’ overall health, or health-risk status, showed evidence of stabilizing throughout the study period. The three-month average of sick-time hours decreased from 12.7 hours to 11.6 hours between 2005 and 2007.

Other findings included an increase from 54 percent to 59 percent in people who said they used the stairs instead of the elevator and a rise in the number of people who said they biked or walked to work from 39 percent to 47 percent.

Marzec said strong support from union and management leaders was critical.

"Anecdotally, people went to the kickoff for the walking path but if they didn’t see their supervisor there, they want back to work because it was a time of job uncertainty," she said. "If you have walking paths at work but you don’t have a half-hour break to take advantage of them, then nobody is going to use them."

Marzec said their research shows that wellness plans that incorporate both broad-based workplace health interventions and focused programs for individuals targeting certain conditions are likely to work best.

"Environmental interventions are important for employers to consider," Marzec said. "They demonstrate senior leader commitment to employee health at all levels, because wherever people are they can participate and be engaged."

The University of Michigan School of Kinesiology continues to be a leader in the areas of prevention and rehabilitation, the business of sport, understanding lifelong health and mobility, and achieving health across the lifespan through physical activity. The School of Kinesiology is home to the Athletic Training, Movement Science, Physical Education, and Sport Management academic programs--bringing together leaders in physiology, biomechanics, public health, urban planning, economics, marketing, public policy, education and behavioral science. Visit .

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