A new framework for improving worker health and well-being while maintaining or enhancing employee engagement and productivity, has been released by researchers.
The “Work Design for Health” framework—developed by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and MIT Sloan School of Management researchers—maps how to create work environments that foster worker health and well-being.
It explains why employers should shift their focus from offering wellness programs, which aim to change individual behaviours, to creating workplace conditions that ease burdens and support employee health and well-being.
The researchers have created a toolkit and website to guide employers through the process of assessing whether their workplace could benefit from the Work Design for Health approach, as well as how to implement it, and to explain the research underpinning the framework.
“Many employers are looking for ways to support the health and well-being of their employees—particularly after a year of high stress and unusual challenges at work and in the wider world,” said Erin L. Kelly, the Sloan Distinguished Professor of Work and Organization Studies at MIT Sloan and a co-author of the paper.
“We hope the work design framework inspires more organisations to consider the various ways that work affects employees’ health and well-being.”
For the past several years, discussions about improving worker health have focused on health promotion or wellness programs that focus on individual behaviours, such as increasing exercise, practicing mindfulness, or eating healthy food.
Recent rigorous research by others indicates that these programs do not substantially change these behaviours or practices to impact a wide range of employee health outcomes, suggesting that a new perspective on work conditions and work environment is needed.
The new framework identifies three strategies to reshape work conditions that not only improve worker well-being but may also benefit the organisation:
- Increasing workers’ control over their schedules and giving them greater voice over work conditions;
- Moderating job demands; and
- Offering training and employer support aimed at enhancing social relations at work.
The toolkit provides many examples and case studies of how these strategies have been tested and implemented in a variety of workplace settings. For instance, one study found that giving high-tech professionals more control over their work schedules resulted in workers who were more productive, less stressed, and less likely to quit.
In addition to being more effective at increasing employee well-being, a redesign based on the Work Design for Health framework could save employers money, according to the researchers.
Wellness programs now cost on average more than $700 per employee, whereas one extensive redesign initiative reviewed by the authors cost roughly half that much.
“Workplace changes during the COVID-19 pandemic have shown employers that providing workers with more flexibility in where, when, and how they work can be beneficial to employees and their organisations,” said Meg Lovejoy, a co-author of the paper and research program director of the Work and Well-being Initiative.
“The return to more familiar workplace practices and settings offers a key moment for employers to consider how they can reshape the work environment to better promote worker well-being, engagement, and retention. The Work Design for Health approach offers guidance and evidence-based strategies to employers on how they might accomplish this.”
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