San Francisco, CA (Vocus) November 3, 2009 –-
Uncertain employment conditions may contribute to greater lifestyle-related health risks among employed persons, according to data analyzed by the non-profit Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI). When considering cutbacks in health and productivity management (HPM) programs, employers need to know that employees are more likely to engage in hazardous health behaviors when employment conditions are uncertain and risky health-related behaviors reduce employee productivity. According to the analysis released today by IBI, now more than ever, employers stand to benefit from encouraging healthy lifestyle choices for workers.
“The studies we analyzed indicate that risky health behaviors such as heavy drinking, smoking, or neglecting physical exercise significantly contribute to workplace absence and reduced productivity while on the job,” said Thomas Parry, PhD, president, IBI. “The effect harms employers and workers alike.”
For example, research in Sweden found that workers who smoked take about one-third more sick leave days per year than non-smokers or former smokers (I). In another study, lack of exercise was a factor in almost a day’s worth of health-related presenteeism per year (II), while higher levels of smoking and drinking were associated with more than a day of additional presenteeism.
Recent news reports have suggested that economic downturns can actually improve a population’s health, as laid-off workers gain more time to exercise and consumers tighten their discretionary spending for unhealthy items such as cigarettes (III). But employees who keep their jobs during tough times may respond differently than those who find themselves under or unemployed. To better understand how employees change their lifestyles in response to employment uncertainty – and by extension, the likely impact on overall productivity – IBI used data from the Center for Disease Control’s National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) to analyze the relationship between 31,000 employed adults’ lifestyle risk factors and their industry’s quarterly unemployment rate (IV). The focus of the analysis was on drinking, smoking, and physical inactivity.
The Worse Things Get, the Worse We Behave
IBI’s analysis shows that employees tend to smoke more, drink more, and exercise less at higher rates of unemployment. For example, doubling the unemployment rate from 4.5 percent – the national average in April 2008 – to April 2009’s rate of 8.9 percent increases the expected percentage of employees who smoke daily by 25 percent, and who smoke occasionally by 18 percent. The share of non-exercisers increases by about nine percent, and all other levels of weekly exercise decrease. The greatest decline – 15 percent – comes for employees who exercise at least eight hours per week. The percentage of moderate to heavy drinkers increases by 20 percent.
A recent IBI survey of more than 400 employers conducted with Harris Interactive suggests that employers are much more likely to increase resources for health and productivity enhancing programs, rather than cut back. Sixty-eight percent of respondents with any HPM programs plan to add resources to at least one program, without decreasing resources for any other program, in the next two years, while only four percent expect to decrease. An additional 23 percent plan to hold firm on the resources devoted to HPM programs, while five percent are cutting some and increasing others.
“Regardless of what’s driving their sustained support for health and productivity management, employers appear willing to step up their health promotion, disease management, and return-to-work efforts even in tough economic times,” noted Parry. “It’s important that workforce health promotion be seen as a necessary and sound business strategy.”
Health and prevention in health care reform
Considering that the majority of working Americans have health coverage through their employers, this analysis speaks to the urgency of injecting workforce health and prevention into the debate over health care reform. This is also especially true given the current financial climate, when the dividends of healthy behaviors may result not only in lower health care costs, but also the enhanced productivity that economic recovery will require.
About the Integrated Benefits Institute
The Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) provides employers and their supplier partners with resources for demonstrating the business value of health. As a pioneer, leader and non-profit supplier of health and productivity research, measurement and benchmarking, IBI is a trusted source for benefits performance analysis, practical solutions, and forums for information and education. IBI’s programs, resources and expert networks advance understanding about the link between – and the impact of – health-related productivity on corporate America’s bottom line. For additional information visit: ibiweb.org.
I. Lundborg, Petter. 2007. ‘Does smoking Increase Sick Leave? Evidence Using Register Data on Swedish Workers.’ Tobacco Control. 16:114-118.
II. Goetzel, Ron Z., Ginger Smith Carls, et al. 2009. ‘The Relationship Between Modifiable Health Risk Factors and Medical Expenditures, Absenteeism, Short-Term disability, and Presenteeism Among Employees at Novartis.’ Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 51(4):487-499. See also Riedel, john E. and Jessica Grossmeier, et al. 2009. ‘Use of a Normal Impairment Factor in Quantifying Avoidable Productivity Loss Because of Poor Health.’ Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 51(3):283-295.
III. See for example ‘Could the Recession Be Good for Your Health?’, Time, August 31, 2009, http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1919447,00.html, and ‘Fewer deaths during a recession,’ Fortune, October 28, 2009, http://money.cnn.com/2009/10/27/news/economy/health_recession.fortune/index.htm.
IV.These figures come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The NHIS surveys used in the analysis are a cross-sectional, nationally representative sample of employees in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. We were able to identify the calendar quarter during which the interview took place, and append unemployment rates for 10 industries over 16 quarters.