Workplace Wellness: Active vs. Sedentary Occupations

Back in 2019, before anyone had even heard of COVID-19, the International Foundation surveyed organizations about their wellness plans. One data point that our Research Team found especially interesting centered on some differences between organizations whose workers were predominately active (e.g., nurses, who spend a large amount of time their feet, performing physical tasks) and those who were predominately sedentary (e.g., an analyst who sits at a desk for most of the day).

Our Research Team took a deep dive into the data to examine some of the ways workplace wellness programs differ between organizations with active employees, vs. sedentary employees in the new report Workplace Wellness: Trends Active vs. Sedentary Occupations.

Workplace Wellness: Active vs. Sedentary Occupations

Health Conditions Impacting Overall Health Care Costs

We found that compared with sedentary workforces, organizations with primarily active workforces were more likely to report health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, smoking/tobacco-related diseases and prescription drug addictions as their costliest health care expenses. On the other hand, organizations with predominantly sedentary workforces were more likely to report cancer, obesity, mental/behavioral health and high-risk pregnancies as their costliest health care expenses.

It is also interesting to note that musculoskeletal conditions were a top healthcare cost for both types of workforces.

Worker Conditions That Have the Most Impact on Organizations’ Overall Health Care Costs

Issues Negatively Impacting Productivity

Organizations were asked to indicate the top three issues that negatively affect productivity. Overall, stress was the most commonly selected issue regardless of the activity level of the workforce, followed by poor work-life balance, personal financial concerns of workers and morale.

However, the two categories of organizations reported that different issues negatively impact their productivity:

  • Organizations with a predominantly active workforce are more likely to report difficulty recruiting new workers (27% vs. 16%), low retention of current workers (27% vs. 9%) and absenteeism (20% vs. 11%).
  • Organizations with a predominantly sedentary workforce are more likely to report that stress (76% vs. 66%) and sleep deprivation (16% vs. 9%) negatively affect productivity.

Wellness Offerings for Active vs. Sedentary Workforces

For most of the wellness initiatives tracked as a part of the 2019 Workplace Wellness Trends survey, organizations with predominantly sedentary jobs offered each wellness initiative at the same or higher rate compared with organizations with predominantly active jobs. In most cases, these differences make sense, based on the structure and nature of the work.

For example, organizations with predominantly sedentary jobs are more likely to offer standing/walking workstations compared with organizations with predominantly active jobs (69% vs. 53%), since a notable proportion of active jobs are in fields such as construction and manufacturing, where standing, walking and other movement are part of the job requirements.

Workplace Wellness Offerings

Learn More

Each organization has a unique workforce with unique strengths and weaknesses. These broad findings remind plan sponsors that wellness programs should not be one-size-fits-all. It’s important to examine your workforce and implement wellness initiatives that best fit your employees’ needs and your organization’s culture. Learn more about workplace wellness.

For more information, members can download the full report: Workplace Wellness Trends Active vs. Sedentary Occupations.

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