International Journal of Workplace Health Management

ISSN: 1753-8351

Article publication date: 28 March 2008



Makrides, L. (2008), "Editorial", International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Vol. 1 No. 1. https://doi.org/10.1108/ijwhm.2008.35401aaa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Welcome to the premier issue of the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, the first journal solely devoted to the science and art of workplace health. This debut issue consists of research papers written by the journal's Associate Editors in four key areas: health and productivity, personal health, occupational health and safety and the psychosocial work environment. In addition, as with all issues of the journal, a paper is included from the workplace that provides a perspective from an organization on their workplace health program. This is published as a "practice briefing". The journal aspires to bridge research and practice in workplace health and be the primary source of information on this topic for researchers, practitioners and organizations. Thus, papers in the practice and policy areas of workplace health will be a unique feature in all issues of the International Journal of Workplace Health Management.

Workplace health is about going upstream. It is about investing in keeping healthy employees healthy, helping those who have risk factors for disease decrease them and stopping or controlling the progress of disease for employees who become ill. The field of workplace health was born primarily out of the necessity to curb rising health care costs associated with the deterioration of employee health, both of which pose a major threat to an organization's viability. There is clearly a need for balance and workplace health management has developed to balance the needs of the organization and its people. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 80 per cent of illness and disease is related to unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking, poor eating habits and physical inactivity (WHO, 2005) and estimates that more than half of the adult population in developed countries is physically inactive (WHO, 2002). Estimated projections of continuing trends show that by the year 2015, about 700 million people worldwide will be obese and by the year 2030, the prevalence of diabetes will double to over 360 million people (Diabetes Care, 2004). Workplace health management promotes awareness, education and actions that employees can take to decrease unhealthy lifestyle behavior and improve their health. And by doing so, there are major gains to both the individual employee and the organization.

Workplace health is a relatively new field born in the 1970s out of groundbreaking reports such as the Lalonde Report, National Chamber Foundation and others (Lalonde, 1974; Sehnert and Tillotson, 1978). Fitness was the primary focus of workplace health programs at the time. One of the first workplace recreation and fitness programs was established by the National Cash Register in the late 19th century with a large recreation park for employees added in the 1900s (Chenoweth, 1998). Organizations in the United States such as Pepsi Company, NASA, Rockwell International and Xerox Corporation have had workplace physical fitness programs since the 1950s and 1960s (Chenoweth, 1998). Exercise was considered a way to reduce stress and improve overall health status. In the 1980s workplace health evolved to encompass risk factor identification and reduction and the Health Risk Assessment (HRA) was developed as the tool of choice. The HRA measures health risk of individuals as well as the health profile of organizations and constitutes both a powerful benchmarking and planning tool for workplace health interventions. Thus workplace health programs became multi-faceted and mainstream, particularly as research supporting the premise that healthier employees are better employees began to be published. The 1990s saw the development of health and productivity management as a serious business strategy with the notion that at the core of an organization's success is its human capital, responsible for creating, planning, producing, selling, servicing and administering the business. Therefore, the concept of comprehensive workplace health was born, defined as an approach to protecting and enhancing the health of employees that relies and builds upon the efforts of employers to create a supportive management culture and upon the efforts of employees to care for their own well-being (Shain and Suurvali, 2000). Thus comprehensive workplace health encompasses health practices and personal resources of individuals as well as the workplace environment including the organization's philosophy or culture. Furthermore, efforts that target lifestyle change in employees must be integrated with changes in the workplace environment to maximize potential for change and ensure long-term sustainability (Sorensen et al., 1992).

This multi-faceted approach was introduced to many nations through the WHO that defined health promotion as a process of enabling people to decrease their risk of disease and improve their health through healthier lifestyles, community resources and health services. The WHO further identified the workplace as the single most important channel to systematically reach the adult population through health information and health promotion programs (WHO, 2001).

In line with the comprehensive nature of workplace health, the International Journal of Workplace Health Management deals with research and debate on all aspects of this field from both the wider public health perspective and the perspective of the individual organization. As the first scholarly journal in this evolving field, it is a unique resource which aims to disseminate high quality research with real relevance to practice. Editorial criteria include:

  1. 1.

    peer-reviewed research articles enabling the reader to identify risks and challenges and to learn from research;

  2. 2.

    in-depth case studies, presenting practical solutions and lessons learned from best practices;

  3. 3.

    policies, processes and governance issues related to cost-effective workplace health programs.

In this, the premier issue, four of the five Associate Editors of the journal review the literature in their respective area of expertise and outline areas for future research.

In "The total value of health: a review of literature", Associate Editor Dee Edington and Schultz, A.B. summarize the increasing volume of research that demonstrates the relationship of personal health risk factors with time away from work, presenteeism, and medical and drug expenditures. As the number of health risk factors increase or decrease, there is a corresponding change in costs and productivity. Traditionally, the value of health promotion and disease management programs has been measured only in its impact on direct medical expenditures. To a lesser extent, reductions in absenteeism and disability-related work loss have been included in return on investment studies of health management interventions and recent research has also included the cost of presenteeism. Together these measures comprise the total value of health which is likely much larger than previously thought.

In "Workplace physical activity interventions: a systematic review", Associate Editor Lindsey Dugdill and Brettle, A., Hulme, C., McCluskey, S. and Long, A.F. review the evidence from published research studies regarding effectiveness of specific workplace physical activity interventions in influencing physical activity behavior. They report that while the effectiveness of stair climbing alone was limited, workplace walking interventions using pedometers were effective in increasing daily step counts if accompanied by facilitated goal setting, diaries and self monitoring and walking routes. Workplace counseling was found to have a positive influence on physical activity behavior. The overall conclusion was that there is a growing evidence base that workplace physical activity interventions can positively influence physical activity behavior and that there is a need for well-designed research studies to boost the developing evidence base on such interventions.

Issues related to work injuries among young workers and strategies to decrease injuries and improve safety are discussed in "The health and safety of young people at work: a Canadian perspective" by Associate Editor Ed McCloskey. While much remains to be learned about the factors that put young workers at higher risk of injury, job-related factors such as the type of work, short job tenure and perceived work overload are significant contributors to the elevated risk. The need for more evaluation of prevention programs aimed at young workers, particularly social marketing programs, was stressed. More comprehensive job orientation and training of young and new workers and the gradual introduction of potentially hazardous tasks were some of the strategies found to be lacking.

In "The psychosocial environment: towards an agenda for research", Associate Editor E. Kevin Kelloway and Teed, M. and Kelley, E. review the current knowledge regarding the workplace psychosocial environment including the nature and outcomes of organizational stressors and the effectiveness of interventions to reduce such stressors. They propose directions for future studies and call for more research on "countervailing interventions", defined as those interventions that focus on increasing the positive experience of work rather than decreasing the negative aspects. Such research should examine not only effectiveness and practical application but also the business case for intervention. Without data supporting the business case, the application of research to improve the psychosocial work environment is unlikely.

A perspective from the workplace health program at Unilever in the United Kingdom is featured in the article titled "Should business invest in the health of its workers??" by John Cooper and Dean Patterson. A brief overview of the program, the approach used to promote workplace health and the critical factors in the successful implementation and buy-in of workplace health in a global organization such as Unilever are discussed. Four criteria have been identified as critical in the successful implementation of the Unilever workplace health program and its promotion globally: engagement and commitment from senior management, evaluation and measurement of outcome data, intensive personal coaching particularly over the initial six months of the program and alignment of the workplace health program with the organization's mission and business strategy. Unilever's workplace health program over the first six months consists of personal coaching in exercise, nutrition and mental resilience. The program starts with senior management first and continues with the rest of the employees. Improving employee health through workplace health programming is part of Unilever's business strategy to keep health care costs under control, to look after its human capital, and to increase the organization's competitive advantage in recruitment and retention of the best talent.

In conclusion, we welcome you to the inaugural issue of the International Journal of Workplace Health Management. As a new journal, we are seeking reviewers with expertise in all areas of workplace health as well as individuals with interest in serving on the journal's Editorial Board. International representation is one of the journal's goals and we invite papers on workplace health programs, policies and strategies from both public and private organizations and government departments throughout the world. The field of workplace health is evolving and the journal has to evolve with it. We look forward to receiving your contributions for future issues of the International Journal of Workplace Health Management.

Lydia Makrides

Article Type: Editorial From: International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Volume 1, Issue 1.

Chenoweth, D.H. (1998), Worksite Health Promotion, Human Kinetics, Champaign IL.

Diabetes Care (2004), Vol. 27 No. 5, pp. 1047-53.

Lalonde, M. (1974), "A new perspective on the health of Canadians", Cat. No. H31-11374, Ministry of Health and Welfare, Ottawa.

Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion (1987), Health Promotion 1, pp. 3-5.

Sehnert, K. and Tillotson, J. (1978), How Business can Promote Good Health for Employees and their Families: a National Health Care Strategy, National Chamber Foundation, Washington, DC.

Shain, M. and Suurvali, H. (2000), Investing in Comprehensive Workplace Health Promotion: a Resource for the Pursuit of Organizational Excellence, Population Health Fund, Health Canada, Ottawa.

Sorensen, G., Hsieh, J., Hunt, M.K., Morris, D.H., Harris, D.R. and Fitzgerald, G. (1992), "Employee advisory boards as a vehicle for organizing work site health promotion programs", American Journal of Health Promotion, Vol. 6, pp. 443-50.

World Health Organization (2002), "Physical inactivity: a global public health problem", available at: www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_inactivity/en/index.html (accessed 15 January 2008).

World Health Organization (2005), The World Health Report. Preventing Chronic Disease: A Vital Investment, WHO.

World Health Organization, Europe (2001), "Evaluation in health promotion: principles and perspectives", in Rootman, I., Goodstadt, M., Hyndman, B., McQueen, D., Potvin, L., Springett, J. and Ziglio, E. (Eds), WHO Regional Publications, European Series, No. 92, Copenhagen.

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