Senior executives “get” the link between employee health and performance to a greater degree than middle and front-line managers, a new poll reveals. This finding might be significant for employee benefit and HR departments locked in budget battles seeking greater resources for health promotion efforts.

“A company’s executive leaders can believe in the importance of good health as it relates to performance as it relates to performance on and off the job, but if the front-line managers don’t share this belief or if the work environment isn’t supportive of healthy behaviors, then companies will fail to see the results and long-term benefits on their bottom line,” said said Nikki Hudsmith, vice president of operations for Performanche pH, and co-author of a recent survey from the Health Enhancement Research Organization.

Also see: Wellness metrics moving beyond health care costs

This finding, HERO states, “speaks to the importance of building support for workplace health at every level of leadership within the organization.”

Beyond cost containment

More broadly, two-thirds of survey respondents see spending on employee health as more of a strategic investment than merely a “health care cost containment strategy.”

The survey of “more than 500 business leaders from across the country” was conducted by the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO), a nonprofit entity “dedicated to the creation and dissemination of employee health management research, education, policy, strategy and leadership,” according to the organization.

The survey sought to assess, among other matters, executives’ perspectives on distinctions between perceptions of distinctions between employee productivity and performance, and the role that health plays in both. More than 90% of surveyed employers do perceive the distinction, a finding that HERO asserts “has implications for program evaluation and how we use such terms in the business case for investment in workforce health.”

Also see: When is the worst time to launch a wellness program?

Employee health, as a driver of productivity and performance, generally ranks below employee engagement with their work and having the right tools for the job, in executives’ minds. For example, only around 20% considered employee health as one of the top three drivers of productivity and performance.

Role of engagement

Yet, according to HERO, “new research should demonstrate how workplace health management programs influence productivity and performance directly through improved worker health and indirectly through improvements to employee engagement with their work.”

Also, the survey’s authors do not believe it’s essential for employee health to be at the pinnacle of productivity and performance drivers. What’s important, they maintain, is that it is “one of several contributors and should be addressed as part of a comprehensive approach to optimizing business outcomes.”

Another survey conclusion is that strength of the case for the productivity- and performance-enhancing role that employee health-enhancing programs can have at a particular employer is dependent on the scope of the program. “If the program is focused only on improving the physical health of the population, it may not be appropriate to expand the value proposition.

“As organizations broaden their business case and evaluation strategies, they may also need to include social, financial, spiritual, and mental well-being.”

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