Well-Being Index Uncovers Opportunities for Employers

By: Neil Mrkvicka​

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index​ is a barometer of Americans’ well-being that provides governments, communities, employers and health plans unmatched insight into the health of their populations.

​The State of American Well-Being dissects Well-Being Index® findings and provides employers recommendations for creating well-being improvement strategies, with data on physical and emotional health, healthy behaviors, work environment, social and community factors, financial security, and basic access to life’s necessities. As I read the report, I found several areas that present themselves as clear targets for employers to address to improve well-being and performance and lower health care costs.

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In the past couple months since the results were released, you may have noticed some of following interesting findings making national news:

  • North and South Dakota topped the list of healthiest states—Nebraska, Minnesota and Montana rounded out the top five. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA, Provo-Orem, UT and Bellingham, WA are the healthiest large, medium and small communities, respectively.
  • Smoking rates are declining steadily, but the obesity rate among American adults is up to 27.7%, the highest annual rate measured since the index began to track obesity in 2008.
  • The negative effects of a long daily commute are staggering: L​onger commutes are associated with higher levels of obesity, cholesterol, pain, fatigue and anxiety.​
  • The average rate of those with health insurance has been decreasing steadily. (However, a more recent Gallup survey shows the uninsured rate for U.S. adults has lowered since the open enrollment period for buying health insurance coverage through the marketplace.)

But one finding the authors describe as one of the most prominent trends to have impacted the national well-being score in the past several years has received lesser attention—declining work environment scores. Work environment hit an all-time monthly low in 2009 and has never fully recovered to pre-recession levels. The questions that comprise this measure and are designed to gauge atmosphere and relationships in the workplace are asked of employed individuals. Working Americans are making it clear that a weak labor market has had an adverse impact on managerial and labor relationships.

These findings build from 2013 Gallup research, finding the single biggest decision for an organization is who to name as managers. This research has found “the top 25% of teams—the best-managed—versus the bottom 25% in any workplace—the worst-managed—have nearly 50% fewer accidents and 41% fewer quality defects. What’s more, teams in the top 25% versus the bottom 25% incur far less in healthcare costs.” When employees are not engaged, workplaces are less safe, health care costs increase, there are more quality defects, and customers are lost, which result from what Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton has referred to as “managers from hell.”

[Related: Creating a Culture of Health Through Workplace Policies and Initiatives]

The well-being index also discovered some interesting discrepancies in well-being among different occupations. Professionals, managers, and business owners have the highest well-being, while transportation, manufacturing and installation, and repair workers consistently have the lowest. In total, employee job satisfaction has been on a steady decline and has not rebounded since the recession, and people who report that they are dissatisfied with their job have drastically lower overall well-being scores.

Lifted from the full report, below are three recommendations for employers to improve the well-being of their populations.

Gallup-Healthways Author Recommendations for Employers:

  1. Move beyond wellness. “By taking a more holistic approach and moving from a wellness strategy to one that includes all the facets of an individual’s well-being (purpose, social, financial, community, and physical), employers of all sizes have an opportunity to unlock additional value across their populations. This is value that exists both in terms of lowering healthcare costs and increasing individual performance. By thinking more broadly and implementing a strategy with well-being at its core, employers will be able to more effectively identify the root causes of issues that impact important business metrics such as health outcomes, healthcare costs, job performance, turnover, and absenteeism.”
  2. Leverage leaders and “well-being champions” as important influencers. “Successful well-being initiatives are driven by leaders and champions who adopt the tenets of well-being for themselves, encourage others to do so, and actively participate in well-being programs. Small decisions and actions by coordinated, committed, and passionate champions make large differences to employees in terms of their engagement and motivation. Ultimately, when leaders and champions are engaged, it will have an impact on the culture and success of any well-being program.”
  3. Think about sustained behavior change—not just onetime engagement. “Promoting a culture of well-being across your organization is not a one-time activity. Successful programs are those that continually educate and motivate individuals to engage and make systematic changes in their lives that improve their well-being.”

As organizations continue to increase focus on health and wellness initiatives, data helps prioritize efforts and build more effective strategies. The State of American Well-Being is a deep resource, providing detailed data by state, best practice recommendations and case studies. As a researcher, I find the report fascinating and I’m confident benefit pros will share my interest in this wealth of data.

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