The Relationship Between Health and Productivity

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Does a healthy employee make a more productive one?

Relationship between Health & Productivity

Recent headlines from the human resources and the health, wellness, & fitness sectors reflect a renewed focus on the connection between employee health and workplace productivity, absenteeism (i.e., unscheduled and habitual or excessive absence from work), and presenteeism (i.e., the act of coming to work despite illness, injury, or anxiety, and not performing optimally).

Specifically, in the face of rapidly escalating health insurance premiums and healthcare expenditures, employers are reevaluating health benefits coverage as a worthwhile cost-reduction opportunity.

The Impact of Employees’ Health Habits & History on Productivity


Ray Merrill and associates conducted a survey of 20,114 employees from three geographically dispersed companies in the United States to examine the effects of health behaviors, physical health, and work environment on employee productivity. They determined that health-related productivity losses account for 77% of all employee productivity losses and cost employers two to three times more than their annual healthcare expenses.

In addition, they found that employees who:

  • Had a history of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, depression, myocardial infarction, or asthma were less likely than those who didn’t to rate their job performance highly. Higher self-rated job performance was most strongly associated with those who didn’t have a history of depression or heart attack and those who did not have pain or activity-limiting conditions.
  • Ate healthy all day and employees who ate at least five servings of fruit and vegetables, four days a week were 25% and 20% more likely, respectively, to highly rate their job performance than those who did not. In addition, those who reported rarely eating healthy snacks at work were 93% more likely to report a loss in productivity.
  • Were of healthy body weight were 11% more likely to rate their job performance higher than those who weren’t.
  • Exercised for at least 30 minutes, three days a week were 15% more likely to report higher productivity than those who did not.
  • Ate healthy, including a diet of at least five servings of fruit and vegetables, four days a week; exercised for at least 30 minutes, three days a week; and didn’t smoke experienced 16% – 27% less absenteeism incidents than their counterparts.
  • Were obese and those who had a history of chronic disease and pain and activity-limited conditions were most likely to have absenteeism incidents.

Summary of the Return on Investment (ROI)


A well-designed and well-executed health and wellness program can:

  • Promote employees’ mental, physical, and emotional health
  • Lower incidences of employee disability and serious and / or chronic illness
  • Reduce employee out-of-pocket expenses, and employer’s long-term costs, for healthcare expenditures
  • Boost employee satisfaction
  • Improve employees’ engagement and collaboration levels
  • Enhance company cohesion and loyalty
  • Increase job application and employee retention rates
  • Decrease absenteeism and presenteeism incidents
  • Raise employees’ productivity levels

The Bottom Line


The current body of research overwhelmingly suggests that improving employees’ health can increase individual and overall productivity. A corporate wellness program can offset productivity losses if it:

  • Is well-integrated into the employee workflow (i.e., asks employees to change their behavior in reasonable, doable ways).
  • Encourages (not mandates) employees to participate.
  • Involves social support from coworkers, family, and friends.
  • Promotes, intervenes, and manages employees’ health (Education alone rarely works; a call to action is needed!).
  • Has an incentive design (i.e., cash rewards, prizes, fitness program discounts, health expense reimbursements) that’s constantly reviewed and changed to keep employees interested and motivated.
  • Can be applied to employees’ lives outside of the office.
  • Is constantly evaluated and adapted based on employees’ interests and progress (or lack thereof).

Sound Off


As an employer, do you think your employee wellness program is a worthy investment? Does a healthy employee make a more productive one?

As a job seeker, does a company’s health and wellness package influence your decision to apply for a job (or accept a job offer)?

As an employee, are you satisfied with the health benefits package your company provides? Why or why not? Do you find that being healthy makes you more productive?


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Cartoon Credit: Scott Adams