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What is the individual benefit of health promotion at work?

Dr. Sonia Lippke, Professorin für Gesundheitspsychologie an der Jacobs University
Promotes health in the workplace, Professor Sonia Lippke (source: WfB Jonas Ginter)


April 12, 2019

It is a win-win situation; workplace health promotion is beneficial for both employees and the company. In their study of many single tests on workplace health promotion, Prof. Dr. Sonia Lippke from Jacobs University Bremen and her colleague PD Dr. Aike Hessel from the German Pension Insurance Oldenburg-Bremen (Deutsche Rentenversicherung Oldenburg-Bremen) analyzed which types of measures are particularly effective. The motivation of employees by means of behavioral health promotion proved to be useful. However, company-wide measures and improvements in the working environment are even more effective.

The Prevention Act, which has been in force in Germany since 2016, allows health insurances to support the health of employees in companies. These measures may only be used to motivate employees. In the case of company-wide measures, the companies themselves have the duty to take action. However, it has not clear how effective these various measures actually are in terms of work ability and behavioral change when summarizing individual results from intervention studies. To close this scientific gap, Dr. Lippke, Professor of Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine at Jacobs University Bremen, conducted a study financed and supported by the German Pension Insurance Oldenburg-Bremen. The study was recently published. A total of over 4,000 middle-aged study participants were examined, most of whom were engaged in sedentary activities while working. The study participants primarily worked in Australia, Belgium, Germany, Finland, Great Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United States.

The results were clear: improvements in the work structure, organizational changes and work conditions are most effective whereas behavioral health promotion appears less effective, but still as useful. If measures are offered that combine both approaches, then effectiveness falls in the mid-range.

For instance, a lack of physical activity in regular office jobs can be reduced by ergonomically designing the working environment. Tension and pain can be avoided with ergonomic office chairs and variable sit-to-stand solutions such as conference tables. What remains is the question of whether the employees use this type of furniture and the programs on offer regularly. Evidence has shown that old habits die hard and that good intentions often lack long-term implementation. One such example is the intention to stand up after one hour sitting at a desk and to do physical exercises: While the employee may be highly motivated to do so, in everyday working life, however, the individual may fail. This may happen due to situational difficulties such as time pressure and the belief that a break does not fit into the workflow or is not supported by colleagues and superiors. The employee may feel obliged to finish the work while sitting without such a break even in face of anticipated back pain afterwards. If the employee would have a standing desk at hand where he or she could continue working while standing, it would not be necessary to interrupt the work flow in order to change the working posture and strengthen or loosen the muscles.

Workshops on time and self-management, corporate sports leagues and physical activity integrated into the workflow can promote the employee motivation. However, health promotion should not be the sole responsibility of the employees. After all, a happier, more motivated and healthier employee is also an essential part for the economic success of a company.

Sonia Lippke explains: “Our working day is often exhausting and we should plan for physically active phases in addition to sedentary activities. There is a lot of innovative potential, for example, in eLearning programs and electronic reminder systems, but also in well-established areas such as company's wellness programs. At the same time, strategic health management is essential to ensure long-term success". Aike Hessel adds: "Companies are well advised to integrate health-promoting exercises into the daily work routine rather than delegating responsibility for sufficient physical activity exclusively to their employees’ work-free time."

Contact for further information:
Sonia Lippke | Professor of Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine
s.lippke [at] | phone: +49 421 200-4730