Getting Down to Work: Engaging Business in Achieving a Healthy Workforce

Field of Work: Engaging employers in improving the health of the workforce.

Problem Synopsis: Since 1980, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has set objectives for improving the health of Americans through its Healthy People report, which it updates every 10 years. Objectives dealing with occupational health and health insurance are aimed at the worksite. In the late 1990's, rising health care costs were threatening the future competitiveness of business; employers therefore, had a major stake in setting and promoting a national agenda to improve the health of the U.S. workforce. Business leaders needed help if they were to recognize the business case for worksite health promotion and to integrate programs at their worksites and in their communities.

Synopsis of the Work: From 1997 to 2006, the Partnership for Prevention, founded in 1991 to provide private sector leadership in achieving Healthy People objectives, worked with American business leaders to increase the engagement of employers in promoting workforce health. The partnership focused on setting business-relevant objectives in the updated Healthy People 2010, the nation's health agenda, which was released in January 2000, and on helping businesses achieve the goals in the following years.

Key Results

  • In 1998, project staff formed a business advisory council to ensure that objectives for worksite health in Healthy People 2010 reflected employers' concerns.

  • In 2001, staff created a forum to provide ongoing leadership in achieving Healthy People 2010 objectives for workforce health. This forum grew to 815 members by 2005.

  • In 2001, the team published Healthy Workforce 2010: An Essential Health Promotion Sourcebook for Employers, Large and Small, as a companion to Healthy People 2010, to help businesses put worksite-related objectives into practice.

Key Findings

  • The project team published findings from its survey of U.S. businesses in the American Journal of Public Health ("Results of the 2004 National Worksite Health Promotion Survey," November 29, 2007):

    • Worksites with 750-plus employees were more likely than smaller worksites to offer some type of health promotion, screening or disease management program.
    • Only 6.9 percent of worksites offered a comprehensive health promotion program that met the criteria set by Healthy People 2010.
    • Large employers were much more likely than small employers to offer comprehensive health promotion programs.
    • Sites with a staff person dedicated to health promotion were nearly 30 times as likely to offer a comprehensive program compared with sites without such a person.