Landmark Study Reveals Connection Between Workforce Health and Community Health

Research details how businesses benefit by investing in community health.

    • July 28, 2015

New York, N.Y.—A study conducted by the Vitality Institute and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) finds that the health of the workforce is linked to the overall health of the community in which it is located. Understanding this connection may help businesses improve workforce productivity and reduce health care costs. The study, presented in a report titled Beyond the Four Walls: Why Community is Critical to Workforce Health, is being released today.

Researchers analyzed health data such as obesity, smoking rates and deaths due to cardiovascular disease from more than 3,100 US counties, and compared these associations to workforce health data from across 21 major industries. The analysis revealed that industries with workers more likely to be in poor health are also more likely to be located in counties with poor health.

The report’s authors call on businesses to extend workplace health promotion programs and initiatives beyond the four walls of the workplace. Employers should use local data to determine what types of programs are most needed in their community, and partner with local research institutions and health organizations to evaluate the impact of their initiatives.

In an age when U.S. businesses are losing more than $225 billion per year due to productivity losses from absent and sick workers, employers have a huge financial incentive to do everything in their power to improve the health of their workforce, said Vera Oziransky, the Vitality Institute researcher and author of the report. Employers who desire to have the greatest possible impact on the health of their employees will extend their workplace health promotion initiatives into the community and invest in improving the health of the local population, which often serves as their workforce pipeline.

In addition to the data analysis, researchers also conducted interviews with leaders at more than 70 businesses and community organizations, and identified the three effective strategies employers use for improving the health of their communities:

1.     Strategic use of philanthropy

2.     Corporate social responsibility (CSR)

3.     Creating shared value, including extending workplace health strategies to the community

The report urges business leaders to partner with community groups to implement these strategies and includes examples of companies that are currently using the strategies. Many companies are doing so with the goals of promoting population health and social well-being; enhancing corporate reputation, recruitment and talent retention; and supporting long-term business growth and profitability.

Regardless of what sector they occupy, businesses have a critical role to play in improving the health of their employees and in forging vibrant, healthy communities, said Marjorie Paloma, director of efforts to engage business for health at RWJF. Now that a correlation between workplace health and community health has been established, it will be critical for employers and community leaders to join forces to build a nationwide Culture of Health.

About the Vitality Institute

The Vitality Institute is an evidence-driven, action-oriented research organization working to strengthen the evidence base around what works and what doesn’t work in health promotion and chronic disease prevention. Its mission is to advance knowledge about the evolving science and art of prevention and health promotion in order to build healthier societies and reduce incidence of non-communicable diseases. The Vitality Institute is an initiative of Discovery, a global financial services provider, and is part of Discovery’s commitment to health promotion and well-being programs. More information is available at www.thevitalityinstitute.org. Follow the Institute on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VitalityInst or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/theVitalityInstitute.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are striving to build a national Culture of Health that will enable all to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.

Media Contacts

Melissa Blair

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (609) 627-5937

Additional Media Contact: Vera Oziransky

Vitality Institute