Employers that provide programs designed to improve employees’ health and wellbeing need to ensure that funding and resources match their goals, otherwise they could be disappointed with the results.
Researchers from the University of Tasmania have provided advice to policymakers and health promotion practitioners on how to get the best results for employees, after evaluating the state-wide workplace health program ‘Healthy@Work’.
The University researchers worked with the Menzies Institute for Medical Research and the Tasmanian State Service to analyse the program’s impact and provide recommendations on how similar projects can be improved.
Healthy@Work was created by the Tasmanian State Service in 2008 to provide policies, facilities, activities and programs that would improve the health and wellbeing of 30,000 employees across the state.
Professor Alison Venn, an expert in epidemiology, led the evaluation project (called partneringHealthy@Work), which was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and ran from 2010-2015.
“We were pleased to see the increase in the number and type of workplace health activities that were being provided the longer the Healthy@Work program ran,” Professor Venn says.
“We found that women experiencing poorer mental health were among the most likely to participate in a Healthy@Work program, which might be a sign of the decreasing stigma around accessing mental health support.”
Implementation of Healthy@Work was associated with an increase in employee productivity saving approximately $1,168 per employee per year.
However, the number of stress-related workers compensation claims did not change, and there were some employees who didn’t think they were eligible for certain programs. Other barriers to participation included lack of time or accessibility, and health issues—and some of the highest risk employees were found to be the least likely to participate.
Some of the team’s key recommendations include:
- use a comprehensive approach when designing a health promotion program
- integrate employee health promotion with health protection
- include evaluation as part of any employee health programs
- build capacity and support for the program within the organisation by training key staff within different areas
- provide centralised program support in large or diverse organisations
- be clear about expectations of any health program—and match those expectations with resources, time-frames and assessment techniques
- have modest expectations about employee’s health and wellbeing improvements and behaviours, especially in the short-to-medium-term.
Researchers used surveys to collect the feedback of around 6000 employees who took part in the programs. The surveys covered: their socio-demographic status; mental health; workplace productivity (such as absenteeism); the type of activities that were available to them; participation; and what, if any, barriers there were to participation.
- Evidence-based care within hospitals: University researchers worked with healthcare providers in Tasmania and NSW to embed research and evaluation into practice—identifying areas of need, then creating and evaluating interventions. Examples include the implementation of best-practice diabetes management in the Acute Medical Unit at the Launceston General Hospital in 2016 and better management of medications in the ‘Right Time, Every Time’ project in 2014, which resulted in a halving of dispensing times for in-patient prescriptions.
- Analysing sport performance: Exercise and sports nutrition researchers from the University influenced athlete behaviour in relation to dietary gluten and protein intake, compression clothing use, sleep, gut health and blood clots. They worked with the Tasmanian Institute of Sport, Australian Institute of Sport, Canadian Institute of Sport, Sports Dietitians Australia, Exercise & Sports Science Australia, and Sports Medicine Australia, as well as industry partners including Re-timer™, PureBred; Gold Coast Marathon, and 2XU Clothing.
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About Professor Alison Venn
Alison Venn is the Director of the Menzies Institute for Medical Research and a Professor of Epidemiology. She has a diverse background including immunology and epidemiology. Her breadth of experience from lab to policy has seen her take on a number of leadership roles, identifying multidisciplinary approaches to solving complex problems. Professor Venn's current research interests are in the causes, prevention and management of chronic disease. She has a particular focus on the factors that lead to the development of cardiovascular disease and diabetes later in life. Professor Venn holds positions on a number of committees including Director of the Tasmanian Data Linkage Unit and the Tasmanian Cancer Registry, both based at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research.View Professor Alison Venn's full researcher profile