Workforce health on a global scale starts in our own back yard

This post wraps up a five-part series in which I update my workplace health and safety industry trend forecast for 2012.

In my fifth prediction, I suggested we would see a growing number of employers adopt programs and strategies to improve quality of life for millions of workers in the U.S. and around the globe.

According to the World Health Organization, only 15 percent of workers worldwide have access to specialized services focused occupational health and safety. We can do so much more.

The American Association of Occupational Health Nurses is an example of a domestic group that is doing more. Executive Director Kay Campbell tells me said the association has changed its bylaws to create an active membership category for nurses in other countries. AAOHN also plans to sponsor an International Occupational Health Summit in conjunction with its 2014 annual national conference, and it is engaged in planning with the Scientific Committee on Occupational Health Nursing of the International Commission on Occupational Health.

The story is similar with respect to employers’ global workplace wellness and health promotion activities. There appears to be some incremental forward movement. For example, in a newly released study, Working Well: A Global Survey of Health Promotion and Workplace Wellness Strategies, Buck Consultants, a Xerox company, found half of responding companies have a global health promotion strategy, up from 34 percent in 2008. More than 1,300 organizations in 45 countries representing more than 17 million employees were surveyed.

Among respondents, 87 percent (compared to 75 percent in 2010) believe health promotion programs give their companies a competitive advantage. However, employers still aren’t very good at quantifying desired results such as improved worker productivity and morale, reduced absence and presenteeism (at work, but not at full capacity), and attracting and retaining qualified employees.

Only 36 percent of respondents indicated they measure specific outcomes such as health care benefit cost savings. Among those who said they have difficulty measuring results, 68 percent cited resource constraints and 34 mentioned lack of knowledge about metrics.

In a related Buck Consultants report, Winning Strategies in Global Workplace Health Promotion: A study of leading organizations, researchers analyzed the performance of 13 multi-national organizations representing more than 1 million employees. They discovered eight common characteristics that have helped these companies successfully overcome differences in culture, attitudes, regulations and business practices in global markets. The researchers came up with eight corresponding recommendations for employers:

  1. Develop a value proposition for workplace health promotion. In addition to the financial business case, place sufficient emphasis on employee health and well-being.
  2. Align the value proposition with key business goals; metrics must be both globally consistent and locally relevant.
  3. Devote adequate time and effort to educating your employees about program goals and anticipated benefits.
  4. Establish a centralized/corporate entity to provide guidance and technical support to local sites and business units.
  5. Use local resources and health professionals to ensure successful cultural adaptation and implementation and provide critical linkages.
  6. Ensure consistent global access to a core suite of health promotion programs and policies.
  7. Create a healthy workplace index and/or menu of services; expect all sites to work toward compliance and eventually be held accountable.
  8. Analyze and address the psycho-social environment and organization of work to encourage good mental health.

While these recommendations are intended for actors on the world stage, the same principles apply right here in our own back yard.

Count on UL’s workplace health and safety solutions to help to protect the well-being of your workers, ensure organizational compliance and drive business results.