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Workplace Wellness Made Easy
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Workplace Wellness Made Easy

Skip the biometric screenings and start hiring nicer people if you want a healthier workforce.

Some people have a knack for making complicated things simple. Most people have a knack for making simple things complicated. I’d like to think I’m in the former category, but you’d have to verify that with my family, friends, neighbors and coworkers.

New research suggests that you can keep your complicated workplace wellness program, with its legally dubious health risk assessments, biometric screenings and genetic testing features, and simply replace it with nice people—some so nice that you want to marry them. Valentine’s Day is coming up, after all.

The first piece of new research is a study that appeared in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review, which is not on my regular reading list (bit.ly/2haZBJs). The study, with the complicated title, “A Meta-Analytic Review of Social Identification and Health in Organizational Contexts” studied 58 other studies to come up with a simple conclusion. It found that peoples’ social identification with coworkers and their employer was correlated with their health, which the researchers defined as:

  1. Presence of well-being.
  2. Absence of stress.
  3. Psychological health.
  4. Physical health.

The more strongly people identified with their coworkers and with their company, the better their health was.

“Rather than providing support for a biomedical model of stress and well-being, findings thus demonstrate the usefulness of bio-psycho-social models, which suggest that physical and physiological markers of health are determined in no small part by the broader social-psychological environment in which people find themselves,” the researchers said.

That’s a complicated way of saying that if you like who you work with and you like your company, you’ll be a lot healthier both mentally and physically. The U.S. ranked 23rd out of 35 countries on Indeed’s 2016 Job Happiness Index (bit.ly/1nKK4Bg). Minneapolis was 15th out of the 50 largest cities in the U.S.

The second piece of new research is a study that appeared in the journal Health Psychology—again, not on my regular reading list. An odd pairing of researchers from the psychology department at Michigan State University and the business school at the University of Chicago studied the self-reported happiness levels and health status of nearly 2,000 married couples from 2006 through 2012 (bit.ly/2ev6UOt). The study found that one of the biggest predictors of health was the other person’s happiness. In other words, the happier your spouse was, the healthier you were. And vice versa.

“The fact that one person’s health can be predicted by the happiness of someone else independently of his or her own happiness significantly challenges current assumptions in the literature,” the study said.

And in the workplace, I say. What that means for your business is this: If you’ve got a lot of sick people in your office, start hiring happier people and have them work in the cubicles next to the sickies and watch absenteeism drop and productivity rise. And maybe watch for a wedding invitation.

I’m not a health services researcher, but I have worked in hostile work environments where insecurity, ignorance and mistrust at the top manifested themselves as verbal abuse, belittlement and humiliation as the means of managing (read controlling) the staff. I know it took a toll on my health and the health of others. Now I work from home, with the biggest annoyances being my dog wanting a bite of my lunch and my daily robo-call telling me I’m under investigation from the Internal Revenue Service.

They say people will kill you. That’s certainly true in the workplace. So if you want to keep your workers healthy and on the job, skip the wellness program and do a better job of hiring people who are both talented and a pleasure to work with. It’s not complicated.
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SHORT TAKE

I don’t know how closely you’ve been following the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust investigation of the sale of the St. Cloud Medical Group to CentraCare Health in St. Cloud. But the documents in the case are required reading for employers who want to understand the impact of hospital and physician consolidation (http://bit.ly/2fsgq59).

In a draft antitrust complaint accompanying the proposed consent agreement settling the case, the FTC said, “Competition between CentraCare and SCMG enables health insurers and employers to negotiate lower reimbursement rates and more favorable contract terms.”

When competition is reduced by a merger? “The acquisition will likely allow CentraCare to increase the reimbursement rates for the services of current SCMG physicians, and potentially secure more favorable terms from health insurance plans for CentraCare services.”

The agreement, under which CentraCare admits no wrongdoing, lets the sale go through with the stipulation that CentraCare release up to 14 of SCMG’s 40 doctors from their non-compete clauses. They could set up their own practices or go to work for someone else, maintaining competition in the market for primary-care services. The first five out the door get $100,000 each to get started.

The FTC’s point of view is clear: Health care competition lowers prices and improves quality, with the benefits accruing to employers and employees.

That’s why the business community needs to pay more attention to health care consolidation. It’s about money.


David Burda (twitter.com/@davidrburda, dburda@msp-c.com) is editorial director, health care strategies, for MSP-C, where he serves as the chief health care content strategist and health care subject matter expert.

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