Low-Wage Workers Would Welcome Wellness Initiatives

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Low-wage employees would welcome workplace health promotion and believe it increases productivity and morale to the benefit of employers, according to a new study by the University of Washington School of Public Health.

The study, published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, was based on interviews with 42 couples from the Seattle area in which at least one member worked in a low-wage industry (food service, child-care provider and healthcare assistant were common jobs). About 60 percent of the interviewees were overweight or obese and one in four was a smoker – rates similar to countywide levels for low-income residents. The study was conducted at the Health Promotion Research Center (HPRC) within the School's Department of Health Services. HPRC is one of 26 CDC prevention research centers nationwide. Dr. Peggy Hannon, associate professor in the department, led the study. Ms. Kristen Hammerback, research scientist at HPRC and a member of the study’s research team, first-authored the paper.

"We hope these findings help bolster the business case for offering evidence-based health promotion to lower-wage workers," commented Ms. Hammerback. "It's really a win-win, in that most employees welcome it, and employers benefit not only through improved employee health, but also through gains in workplace morale."

Nearly half of the couples included at least one member whose employer provided some workplace health promotion such as gym discounts, newsletters with fitness tips and healthy recipes, or onsite flu shots that were partly subsidized. Employees were most interested in efforts that focused on nutrition and physical activity, but doubted their employers would prioritize employee health.

A previous study conducted by the HPRC, also led by Dr. Hannon, found that employers faced many barriers to workplace health promotion, including time and cost. They also felt it might be perceived as an intrusion into workers' personal lives. The current study, however, found that employees viewed employer interest in their health as a sign they are valued.