Healthy Lifestyles in the Workplace – The Impact on Productivity & Retention

The Importance Of Promoting Healthy Lifestyles In The Workplace: An Optum™ Research Study

Whether it’s at home or in the workplace,  healthcare and wellness are hot topics these days. There is so much hype about eating green, paleo, organic, non-GMO and so on and so forth. The basic idea is one – EAT HEALTHIER-LIVE LONGER!

Optum™, a renowned health services and innovation company with a mission is to help make healthcare systems better for everyone, is leading changes in this field. In cooperation two other research organizations,  Optum™ commissioned  a research study, issuing a white paper,  The Importance Of Promoting Healthy Lifestyles In The Workplace: An Optum™ Research Study. Below is an excerpt from this study.


Companies institute wellness programs in the workplace based on their belief that such programs will improve employee health, reduce medical costs, increase productivity, and raise retention rates. But the program design has been largely based on untested assumptions about employee attitudes regarding health and the workplace, the challenges they face in following healthy lifestyles, and the program options most likely to engender positive change.

In this study, we quantified current and emerging trends in workplace wellness programs. We also looked at the attitudes of employees about these programs, examining the differences between those who work for companies that place an importance on employee health and those that do not. The results strongly support the premise that well-designed workplace wellness programs can be highly effective in helping employees adopt and sustain healthy lifestyle change, with significant benefits for employee and employer alike.

Research objectives

  • Understand how employees rate employers on prioritizing health and wellness
  • Identify employee views on their own health and productivity as a result of wellness programs
  • Learn what employees see as the primary challenges to living a healthy lifestyle in the workplace
  • Assess the types of programs employees view as most helpful
  • Understand the differences between companies that have a culture of health versus those that do not

The importance of promoting healthy lifestyles in the workplace

…Because this study’s focus was on health and wellness associated with the workplace, it is important to note the employment details of survey respondents:

  • The majority of respondents were full-time or part-time employees. For those not employed, top categories for respondents were either retired, temporarily unemployed, or homemakers.
  • Workplace questions focused on those employed full time.
  • Occupations among employed respondents were split fairly equally between white collar and blue collar.
  • The sample included respondents from both large and small organizations.

Key findings

  • Close to nine in 10 employees (87%) considered it appropriate for employers to encourage workers to take steps to be healthy.
  • More than eight in 10 (84%) believed that workplace wellness programs showed that an employer cared about its employees and that it would increase their productivity
  • Eight in 10 employees (82%) who worked at companies with health and wellness programs said such programs would encourage them to stay longer at a company.
  • Those who worked in companies that emphasized health felt that they had more control over maintaining a healthy lifestyle at work than those who did not (92%)
  • When reflecting on the culture and atmosphere at their workplaces, almost half of employees (48 percent) said their employers placed at least some emphasis on employees being healthy — eating right, exercising, quitting smoking, and knowing their health metrics.
  • A large percentage of employees (73%) felt that the availability of a gym or exercise program at work would help them work better and be more productive.
  • The same percentage (again, 73 percent) viewed good health and wellness programs as an important benefit that would encourage them to stay longer with an employer.

Summary of findings

  • 87% of employees approved of companies’ efforts to encourage workers to adopt healthy lifestyles.
  • Almost half (48%) of employees said their employers emphasized taking steps to be healthy in the workplace.
  • 24% of employees perceived their employers to be placing more emphasis on health than in the past.
  • Employees linked wellness programs to increased productivity and retention.
  • Employees who had experience with workplace wellness programs were strong endorsers of such programs.


Employee Challenges

Control over a healthy lifestyle at work is a challenge for most.

  • A lack of discipline emerged as a top reason that people cited
  • Organizations that seek to encourage employee adoption of healthier lifestyles need to be sure their wellness programs effectively address the types of barriers that survey respondents describe in the workplace, in ways that enable and support positive, long-term behavior change.


Stress and lack of programs are less a factor for those in health-conscious companies

  • Respondents whose companies placed an importance on health were somewhat less likely than others to say that too much stress prevented them from maintaining a more healthful lifestyle at work.
  • They were also less likely to attribute unhealthy habits on the job to a lack of wellness programs.
  • Those who worked at companies where health was considered a priority registered significantly higher acceptance of various scenarios, such as leaving work on time, leaving work to care for a sick child, or going to doctor’s appointment during work hours
  • These employees were also much more likely to say it was acceptable at their workplace to take breaks for exercise or take time off for relaxation.

Summary of findings

  • Control over a healthy lifestyle at work is a challenge for most. Only about one-third (36 percent) indicated they had a lot of control at work in this respect.
  • Employees working at companies that focused on health felt they had more control in maintaining a healthy lifestyle at work compared to those whose companies did not (92 percent versus 72 percent).
  • Stress, time pressure and temptations at work were challenges to employees.
  • Employees whose companies placed an importance on health were less likely to report that too much stress (31 percent versus 41 percent) and a lack of wellness programs (14 percent versus 22 percent) prevented them from maintaining a healthy lifestyle at work.



Program results

  • Employees in large companies tend to have greater access to wellness programs.
  • Respondents who worked at companies with an employee health focus indicated that their companies were more likely to offer a variety of different wellness programs. These programs included smoking cessation, weight loss, fitness centers, health fairs, wellness coaching, work contests, and health risk assessments

38 percent of respondents mentioned incentives — such as giveaways, gift cards, discounts, cash and premium reductions — were used to encourage participation in wellness programs.

Organizations not yet using incentives should consider taking a staged approach to introduce them. Such an approach can start with easy-to-implement options based on participation or one-time events, and eventually move to more complex strategies as appropriate to meet organizational needs.

Of course, organizations should base their incentive strategies on employee feedback, as some organizations do not need sophisticated incentive strategies to motivate employee participation.

This comprehensive study covers many more survey and study results. You can read the entire study at, The Importance Of Promoting Healthy Lifestyles In The Workplace: An Optum™ Research Study


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