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Saturday May 28th

UNC researchers find only 17.1% of employers offer comprehensive health programs

Laura Linnan is a professor in the Gillings School’s Department of Health Behavior and the lead researcher on "Results of Workplace Health in America Survey," a 2017 nationally representative study that details the state of workplace health and wellness programs in the United States. Photo courtesy of Laura Linnan.
Buy Photos Laura Linnan is a professor in the Gillings School’s Department of Health Behavior and the lead researcher on "Results of Workplace Health in America Survey," a 2017 nationally representative study that details the state of workplace health and wellness programs in the United States. Photo courtesy of Laura Linnan.

When Laura Linnan was 17 years old, she was manning the register at McDonalds in West Seneca,  N.Y.

Her shifts were hard, but fun. Heavily involved in sports at the time, Linnan enjoyed the teamwork aspect of working at McDonalds, and the job felt like a step up from her first gig as an umpire for Little League baseball.

But it wasn’t all teamwork and after-shift cheeseburgers.

“When it came to just being there every day, I was just more aware of especially just the greasy floors honestly we had so many people fall and hurt themselves, it was not cool," Linnan said.

She said she learned that although she enjoyed working there, people got hurt at work. 

Now, over 50 years later, Linnan’s summer job at McDonald’s has inspired her career in public health, specifically in studying workplace wellness as a professor in the UNC Gillings School of Public Health’s Department of Health Behavior and the founding director of the Carolina Collaborative for Research on Work and Health.

On Monday, Linnan and other researchers from UNC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and RTI International published “Results of the Workplace Health in America Survey,” a nationally representative study from 2017 that details the state of workplace health and wellness programs in the United States.

Workplace health and wellness programs can include on-site healthy food options, on-site fitness facilities, stress management, cholesterol education, disease management and more.

“The last time this survey was done was in 2004,” Linnan said. “People have been waiting for these results so it’s been really exciting to finally get the CDC to fund it and to carry out this big national survey of employers.”

Linnan and her team collected the data for their study by sampling nearly 3,000 different worksites across the country, including for-profit, nonprofit and government workplaces. Companies with at least 10 employees were included in the study, and 77 percent of the workplaces that responded had less than 100 employees.

In contrast, the 2004 study only included non-governmental workplaces with more than 50 employees.

“It’s a nationally representative sample of employers which is really important, because there's been a lot of other surveys of employers, but they’re not really representative of the U.S., some of them just survey really big worksites or they survey worksites that are part of an insurance plan or something, but this is actually designed to represent all U.S. workforces,” Linnan said.

The study found nearly half of workplaces in the U.S. offer some type of health and wellness programming. In addition, 20 percent of workplaces offered stress management programs and 14 percent offered excessive alcohol and drug misuse programs.

Linnan acknowledged the progress in workplaces increasing the amount of health programming offered since 2004 but said the study didn’t lend entirely positive results.

“The not-so-good news is the specifics, which is only 46 percent of all employers in our sample said that they offered any type of health programming for their employees,” Linan said. “And that’s a very low bar: ‘Any type of health programming.’”

The study also revealed that only 17.1 percent of employers offer comprehensive health programs. “Comprehensive” refers to the inclusion of five key elements: health education programming, screening and appropriate education and follow up, linkages to other programs in the workplace, administrative support and having a supportive social and physical environment.

Although the amount of worksites offering these comprehensive programs has increased roughly 10 percent since 2004, Linnan stressed the importance of more workplaces implementing this type of programming.

“If you go into work and it’s extremely stressful, or if you go into a manufacturing worksite and everybody's on the line and they’re just turning out the widgets one after the other and they are very stressed, or they’re exposed to noise or they're exposed to weather conditions that are very bad, or they are exposed to a manager that's terrible, a supervisor that's abusive or something, all of those are conditions at work that can make you unhealthy just going to work,” Linnan said. “When these worksites have comprehensive programs they're creating this whole culture where it's supporting employee health.”

Linnan said accessibility is also an important factor to consider when introducing any type of workplace health and wellness program.

“That’s a big thing on our campus where we know that there may be health programs offered over in the fitness facilities for employees, but are they offered in a location where people can get to them in their lunch break? Does it cost money to go to them? Some of of our lower wage workers, can they actually take advantage of these programs at all when they are offered?” Linnan said. “So it's not enough to just offer them, you really have to create an environment where people can get access to programs.”

However, with this new study comes a new opportunity for growth in workplace wellness programs nationwide. The study includes an online interactive data dashboard which is broken down by industry, number of employees and region. The dashboard also has the ability to show data based on specific survey topics and questions.

Linnan and her team hope the information presented on the dashboard will motivate employers to make necessary changes in the workplace.

“I really hope that people use our online dashboard, that worksites actually get online and look at the dimensions they’re interested in and do more with that,” co-author Laurie Cluff said. “I really hope people download the database and do their own analysis, publish additional studies and findings using the data so that it kind of grows and grows gets the most use out of it possible.”

@arabellasau

university@dailytarheel.com

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