On June 19, 2015, while the U.S. federal government was determining how much employers should be allowed to fine workers for high blood pressure and cholesterol, the United Kingdom’s quasi-governmental National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) was doing something beneficial for employee wellness. NICE issued evidence-based guidelines for management practices and policies that support employee health.
In the U.S., where we lean on behavioral programs and medicalized approaches to try to manipulate worker health, NICE’s focus on workforce management and policy may seem…um…foreign. But as often mentioned in this blog, much of the rest of the economically advanced world long ago realized that management practices — especially those relating to job design and work environment — are the foundation of employee health. Voluntary behavioral programs play a potentially important but supporting role.
In fact, a recent Stanford study, described in a previous post here, determined that low job control, unemployment, long work hours, and work-family conflict had a greater affect on mortality than second hand smoke. And more than 120,000 deaths per year and approximately 5% to 8% of annual healthcare costs may be attributable to how U.S. companies manage their workforce.
The NICE guidance includes recommendations like…
- “Encourage employees to be involved in the design of their role to achieve a balance in the work demanded of them. Allow them to have a degree of control, appropriate to their role, over when and how work is completed.”
- “Value and acknowledge employees’ contribution across the organisation. If practical, act on their input and explain why this action was taken.”
- “Create a supportive environment that enables employees to be proactive to protect and enhance their own health and wellbeing.”
- “Ensure any unfair treatment of employees is addressed as a matter of priority.”
- “Proactively challenge behaviour and actions that may adversely affect employee health and wellbeing.”
- “If possible and within the needs of the organisation be flexible about work scheduling, giving employees control and flexibility over their own time.”
These are just a few examples. Visit the NICE website to read the full Workplace Health: Management Practices guidance and the evidence upon which it’s based.
In the U.S., we seek “disruption” in the form of new wellness programs, gizmos, and websites. But these aren’t disruptive and in some cases they aren’t even improvements. They’re just new tricks for old dogs.
Even if behavior is the underpinning of health, as we insist on believing, employers have little influence over it, and may do some damage in the process of trying.
Employers do influence the workplace and the work, and that’s where they can have the most impact on wellness. Hence the tagline of this Health Shifting blog…
Change the work. Not the worker.