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Healthy work: The connection between employee wellbeing and chronic health conditions

By Nick Wilson | |5 minute read

When an employee has greater wellbeing – they are significantly less likely to develop chronic health conditions. Not to mention, they are more productive, less absent, and more engaged.

Wellbeing is one of those concepts that, by its very breadth and wideness of application, can at times appear meaningless.

Despite this, professionals have been finding ways to quantify employee wellbeing by, first, breaking it down into its core components.

According to Gallup, there are five elements of wellbeing:

  1. Career: You like what you do every day.
  2. Social: You have meaningful friendships in your life.
  3. Financial: You manage your money well.
  4. Physical: You have energy to get things done.
  5. Community: You like where you live.

Of all five, said Gallup, it’s your career wellbeing that stands out as the foundation for all the rest: “Employers who are looking to make the biggest difference in the shortest amount of time should focus on career wellbeing.”

According to a recent study by Gallup, US adult workers who have poor wellbeing across most or all of the five essential elements of wellbeing are roughly twice as likely to report a major new chronic condition over a 36-month period of successive surveys than those with high wellbeing in no more than one element.

In other words, simply having high wellbeing in one of the five above elements roughly halves your chances of developing a chronic condition over a year and a half period. The survey also found:

  • Workers with poor wellbeing (high wellbeing in one or none of the above five elements) developed 450 new chronic conditions per 1,000 persons three years after being initially interviewed.
  • Workers with inconsistent wellbeing (high wellbeing in two to four elements) added 330 new chronic conditions per 1,000 persons over the three-year period.
  • Workers with holistic wellbeing (high wellbeing in all five elements) added only 230 new chronic conditions per 1,000 persons over three years.

The research tracked eight disease diagnoses: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, depression, anxiety, back pain, insomnia, and suffering a heart attack.

Businesses can significantly impact the wellbeing of their employees. The World Health Organisation considers employment a “social determinant of health”.

However, promoting employee wellbeing is no show of altruism. As noted by Gallup: “The economic impact of disease burden extends beyond healthcare costs and includes workplace productivity.”

Gallup research has linked weight-related chronic conditions among workers to US$153 billion in unplanned absenteeism – which amounts to US$209 billion in lost productivity annually.

Research shows that employees who are in good physical, mental, and emotional health are more likely to deliver optimal performance in the workplace.

“Healthy and happy employees have a better quality of life, a lower risk of disease and injury, increased work productivity, and a greater likelihood of contributing to their communities than employees with poorer wellbeing,” read an article in Public Health Reports.

According to Deloitte, business leaders should follow the following three steps to meaningfully improve workplace wellbeing in a way that serves their bottom line:

  1. Shift from legacy mindsets and build accountability for change beyond HR.
  2. Measure wellbeing in a meaningful way.
  3. Identify the biggest opportunity areas and build momentum.

“The number of dissatisfied employees may only continue to grow until organisations address the root causes of workplace wellbeing,” said Deloitte.

“Employers have an opportunity to address the changing dynamics of work and move toward a model that could support human sustainability – and if they do, they may be able to increase productivity and innovation, accelerate growth, better recruit and maintain workers, and strengthen brand value.”

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson is a journalist with HR Leader. With a background in environmental law and communications consultancy, Nick has a passion for language and fact-driven storytelling.