Many employers are either losing their workers to retirement, or to chronic diseases and impairments that are caused by their jobs. Studies conducted by the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics (AOEC) and the Society of Occupational and Environmental Health (SOEH) have estimated that in the United States, the percentage of people aged 65 and older is projected to increase from 12.4 percent in 2000 to 19.6 percent in 2030. These figures are expected to continue to grow through 2050.
How Old Is Old?
While there is no standard definition for aging or older workers, the U.S. Department of Labor defines an aging worker as one who is more than 40 years of age, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics defines an aging worker as more than 45 years of age. The U.S. Office of Aging defines older workers as those over 55, and the United Nations defines it as those over 60.
What Is Workplace Health Promotion?
The term workplace health promotion is essentially self-explanatory. It refers to the combined effort of employers, employees and society to improve the health and well-being of people at work. Workplace health promotion can be achieved through the implementation of workplace health programs.
What Are Workplace Health Programs?
According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), workplace health programs are a coordinated and comprehensive set of strategies that includes programs, policies, benefits, environmental supports, and links to the surrounding community, all of which are designed to meet the health and safety needs of all employees. These programs seek to:
- Improve work organization and the working environment
- Promote the participation of workers in healthy activities
- Enable healthy choices among workers
- Encourage workers’ personal development
Why Should Workplace Health Promotion Be a Priority?
Despite the discrepancies in the definition of age among the various organizations, the fact remains that the workforce is aging and will continue to do so. As a result, there will be severe negative impacts on the economy. Therefore, employers across all industries need to consider developing their very own workplace health programs. Regardless of the age of a particular workforce, employers that have programs aimed at preventing disease and injury can help maintain the health of workers throughout their working lifetime and, thus, alleviate some of the challenges brought about by an aging workforce. (Get some tips on how to do this in Workplace Safety Culture 101.)
Benefits for Employers
While employers have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment free of hazards, they also have abundant opportunities to promote individual health and cultivate a healthy work environment. As an employer, some additional benefits of implementing and promoting workplace health programs are:
- Lower insurance premium costs
- Lower health care and disability costs
- Fewer worker compensation claims
- Reduced employee absenteeism
- Decreased rates of illness and injuries
- Increased and enhanced worker productivity
- Enhanced corporate image
- Improved employee morale
- Improved employee recruitment and retention
- Increased organizational commitment
- The creation of a culture of health
Benefits for Employees
A workplace health program that combines both individual and organizational strategies can be beneficial for both employees and their families. As an employee, some of the benefits of participating in workplace health programs are:
- Increased well-being, self-image, and self-esteem
- Improved skills for coping with stress, as well as other factors affecting health
- Improved health status
- Lower costs for acute health issues
- Lower out-of-pocket costs for health care services such as reduced premiums, deductibles and co-payments
- Increased access to health promotion resources and social support
- Improved job satisfaction
- A safer and more supportive work environment
Developing a Successful Workplace Health Program
Workplace health programs do not focus on one specific area. Instead, they incorporate many elements. Therefore, the aim of your program will depend on the exact needs of your workplace. Below, are examples of the more common aspects that are typically addressed.
- Supporting Healthy Living: Healthy eating, active living and encouraging non-smoking
- Work/Life Balance: Time management and work organization
- Work Environment: Providing a safe working environment, eliminating psychological risk factors, implementing violence prevention policies, and the availability of counselling when required
- Management Practices: Communication and awareness sessions on personal health related topics, training for stress management, time management, and work/life balance, encouraging employee participation in the decisions that concern them, and providing financial assistance for recreational activities and health screening tests
Challenges that Hinder the Effectiveness of Workplace Health Programs
The effectiveness of workplace health programs determines their success. Currently, the following factors negatively impact the success and effectiveness of these programs:
- Program Duration: In most cases, programs are only being implemented for short periods of time. Therefore, the problem of permanently maintaining the corrective changes is not being taken into account. Only a few aspects of the programs, such as physical activity and nutrition, include a long-term perspective
- Participation: One of the greatest obstacles of workplace health promotion is the low participation rates of entitled employees
- Integration of Other Spheres: Health promotion activities separate work from the other spheres of life. For instance, women have different role requirements. Therefore, in order to facilitate the daily health-beneficial activities for them, changes in working conditions would be necessary, which is an aspect that is not taken into account in most of workplace health promotion programs
The majority of the labor force spends one third of a day at work, five days a week. As a result, the workplace directly influences the physical, mental, economic and social well-being of workers, and even the health of their families. Therefore, the workplace can be a crucial setting for health protection, health promotion and disease prevention programs. The use of effective workplace programs and policies can reduce health risks and improve the quality of life for workers across the globe. However, for workplace health programs to be successful, it is important that employers and employees alike, both fully understand the various steps and procedures involved in developing and implementing such programs.
The concept of promoting health in the workplace is becoming increasingly relevant as more private and public organizations recognize that future success in a globalizing marketplace can only be achieved with a healthy, qualified and motivated workforce.