Originally posted March 27th, 2014 on https://hr.blr.com

Findings from a new study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed that the level of employees’ well-being is a more important contributor to on-the-job productivity than their chronic disease status.

The study, “Comparing the Contributions of Well-Being and Disease Status to Employee Productivity,” is the first to challenge the common belief that physical health is the primary contributor to employee productivity levels. It is also the first study to specifically show that well-being improvement can increase productivity in both healthy populations and those with disease, says a press release.

Well-being considers the important role of physical health while also factoring in a person’s sense of purpose, social relationships, financial security, and community attachment. Achieving the benefits of improved well-being—lower healthcare costs and increased performance—requires employers to look beyond physical health alone in designing wellness programs for their employees.

“As individuals, we intuitively know that we are not at our best when we are stressed about anything that is important to our well-being,” said James E. Pope MD, chief science officer at Healthways and coauthor of the article. “What this research has shown is how these elements of well-being interact to drive decreased productivity. Equally exciting is the discovery that programs designed to help improve the overall well-being can improve the productivity of both healthy and chronically ill individuals alike.

“Measuring employee well-being and understanding the unique aspects of their populations will help employers achieve more successful outcomes with their programs. Higher well-being manifests in greater degrees of creativity, innovation and employee engagement, all of which can improve value for employers by shifting the focus from productivity loss to productivity gain.”

According to Patrick D. Bogart, director of client service for Gallup, “The most successful, forward-thinking leaders understand that they are in the business of boosting their employees’ well-being, and they use this as a competitive advantage to recruit and retain employees. They know they will attract top talent if they can prove to a prospective employee that working for the organization will generate better relationships, more financial security, improved physical health, and more involvement in and attachment to the community in which they live.”

Researchers tracked the well-being of employees at three different companies using the Healthways Well-Being Assessment, a tool for measuring an individual’s overall well-being and providing insights into his or her physical, emotional and social health.

The study included more than 2,600 employees that either had no chronic conditions or had been diagnosed as having diabetes. Diabetes was the focus chronic condition due to its prevalence and demonstrated impact on productivity; those in the diabetes group may also have had comorbid conditions.

Analysis of 2 consecutive years of survey data revealed that survey participants with higher well-being demonstrated greater workplace productivity, regardless of whether they suffered from chronic conditions.

In addition, well-being was more important than chronic disease or demographic factors in defining how productive a person would be in any given year. Over time, changes in well-being contributed significantly to shifts in productivity beyond what could be explained by any individual characteristic, such as disease status, age, gender, or socioeconomic status.