SAP’s 2018 Integrated Report includes a section on Connectivity of Financial and Non-Financial Indicators that is a worthwhile read for any leader interested in results-oriented employee wellbeing, engagement, sustainability, and retention. Continue reading »
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Wellness thought leaders, under the guise of “wellness isn’t just about physical health,” brush physical health aside as if it’s no longer our concern. We’re all about connection, humanization, and collaboration.
Flu prevention? Physical activity? Nutrition? What could these possibly have to do with wellbeing?
Back in 2014, in a webinar I led with Rajiv Kumar, M.D. — now President and Chief Medical Officer of Virgin Pulse — I encouraged action to address the wave of e-cig users coming employers’ way. I admit that I’ve been surprised vaping didn’t come to a head sooner for employers, but we can’t put off the inevitable.
Employers generally have gotten away with just folding e-cigs into their no-smoking policies. Now, with estimates of more than 25% of high school students having vaped within the last 30 days, and the national spotlight shining on the risks of vaping, are employers geared up to play a role in this emerging public health crisis?
We still have a lot to learn about vaping. Here’s some basic info from the CDC to get you started.
Here’s How EAPs Can Take Workplace Mental Health Beyond Band-Aid Solutions Like Meditation Apps And…um… EAPsin EAPs, Workplace Mental Health Resources, Uncategorized, industrial organizational psychology
A recent survey by my distinguished colleagues at Lumity, Inc exposes some inconvenient truths about how employers approach workplace mental health.
One of the most perplexing findings:
92% of respondents believe mental and behavioral health influence productivity, but only 49% believe mental and behavioral health benefits are important for the bottom line of their business.
If this is correct, it suggests that many employers can’t connect the dots between productivity and profits — too weird! — or that they have little confidence in Continue reading »
Dept. of Labor: Mental Health-Friendly Workplace Toolkit — Website (US))in Workplace Mental Health Resources, -website
I never would have thought to align our wellness program with our core values and business goals.
If a wellness leader never would have thought to align the wellness program with the organization’s core values, they probably aren’t really core values.
Often, what companies describe as their values are actually aspirations. Still lovely, but not the same.
As an example, many companies tout innovation as a value, but actually foster risk-averse environments (based on micromanagement, punitive actions, lack of psychological safety, etc.).
For potential hires and other stakeholders (customers, vendors, etc.), there’s benefit to understanding that the values touted on a company poster often don’t align with the reality of the organizational culture, climate, and practices.
Indeed, if your company really holds core values — as opposed to aspirations — there shouldn’t be any need to remind employees using posters or other media…And it wouldn’t be likely that managers and leaders would neglect to integrate them into their program strategies.
Coming Soon: Rob Baker’s “Personalization at Work: How HR Can Use Job Crafting to Drive Performance, Engagement and Wellbeing”in job design, industrial organizational psychology, job crafting
The book I’m most looking forward to in 2020:
Rob and I talk frequently, and he’s strongly influenced my thinking and practices regarding job crafting.
You know those organizational inventories we recommend for other dimensions of wellbeing? Before launching a physical wellness program, for example, we conduct audits of workplace factors that influence physical health, like pretty stairwells, healthy food in vending machines, and so forth. Before launching a culture-of-health strategy, we assess the current state of the organization’s culture, using criteria like “Is wellness mentioned in the company’s mission statement?” and “Does the CEO visibly model wellness behaviors?”
We should do the same with our ever-popular financial wellbeing strategies. Before launching strategies to promote savings, budgeting, debt management, and retirement planning, let’s assess Continue reading »
Our Usual Construct of Psychological Safety Isn’t Enoughin total worker health, burnout, job strain
Gruesome. A worst case scenario that exemplifies why it’s not enough to view psychological safety as encouraging risk-taking and authenticity. We have to use what we know about workplace psychosocial risk factors — like organizational injustice, job insecurity, and social isolation — to prevent psychological injury.
Click on image or here to read the New York Times article, “35 Employees Committed Suicide. Will Their Bosses Go to Jail?“
Nate Randall and I untangle the latest news about gender equity in paid family leave and about burnout in the latest episode of his podcast, Illuminate HR.
Ultimately, I try to get us all thinking about the relationship between burnout, depression, and the workplace. And Nate and I both touch on “disappearing news” and media literacy, as well.
False News About Burnout Spreads Like Wildfirein Data, burnout, Uncategorized, Wellbeing, Stress, industrial organizational psychology
This week, CBS News, CNN, and other major outlets blared headlines and articles — most accompanied by photos of office workers collapsed face-down on their desks — claiming that burnout had officially been recognized as a disease. The news spread like wildfire but was almost completely unfounded. Continue reading »
The 4 Steps Wellness Organizations Must Take to Move Our Industry Forwardin Uncategorized, Employee Wellness Programs, industrial organizational psychology
- Broaden the base. Reach out to professionals trained in fields other than exercise, nutrition, and HR. Especially, bring in folks trained in the relatively fast-growing field of I/O Psychology, who have a deeper, evidence-based understanding of wellbeing and also tend to be well trained in analytics. Speaking of which…
- Train wellness professionals in analytics. HR finally seems to be getting serious about data, and wellness will be left behind if we don’t have stronger competency in this area. We don’t need to be data scientists, but we should be able to direct analytical work and speak the language. I’ve been studying statistics, business analytics, and advanced Excel, and it’s already added value for my clients.
- Help us understand the wellness needs of employees. Because wellness in the US has been market driven, we give most of our attention to what purchasers (employers) will buy, rather than what employees want. Unfortunately, these are rarely the same thing.
- Help identify and then advocate for where wellness fits in an organization. As long as we’re tucked away in benefits departments, we’ll be undervalued and weighed-down by healthcare cost-reduction fantasies.
A study of the BJ’s Wholesale Club employee wellness program attracted a lot of attention in the media, but the most important facts about the study were overlooked.
“The model aims to answer the question: what is the effect of offering an individual the opportunity to participate in a wellness program?”
— From the study’s supplement (eMethods 3. Statistical Analysis)
Facty Fact 1: Worksites, Not Workers, Were Randomized
The BJ’s study was not primarily an evaluation of participation outcomes: Continue reading »
What Works: CDC Survey Provides Context for Controversial Wellness Studiesin Data, total worker health, Uncategorized, Employee Wellness Programs
The BJ’s Wholesale Club study wasn’t the most important employee wellness research published last month. Let’s look at the Workplace Health in America Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When you put the CDC survey together with BJ’s Wholesale Club research as well as last year’s Illinois University worksite wellness study (both employers found that 12-18 months of wellness programming didn’t reduce healthcare costs or improve productivity) we get a more complete picture of relevance.
The CDC asked about companies’ employee health promotion programs. 2,843 respondents completed surveys — targeting whoever in the company was most knowledgeable about its wellness offerings — from a variety of employers.
Here’s some of what the survey found: Continue reading »
Health Circles — A Hospital’s Evidence-Based Solution for Better Employee Health and Performancein Wellbeing, job design, industrial organizational psychology
Health Circles is a structured process in which employees hold facilitated meetings over a course of time to identify what’s holding their health back and what can be done to improve it – with an emphasis on job design and the psychosocial health risks at the workplace.
This excerpt from a webinar (hosted by Lumity) describes a multi-year, controlled study of hospital nurses and aides at a hospital Continue reading »
Psychological Safety; Employee Engagement. From the Source.in Uncategorized, industrial organizational psychology
Not to be missed: Bruce Daisley’s brilliant interview with William Kahn, widely credited with coining the concepts of psychological safety and personal engagement at work. To whet your appetite for the entire interview, here’s a taste: Continue reading »
Free e-book: Now We’re Talking! Transform Your Wellness Program With an All-Out Communication Strategyin Featured
There’s no need to be either frustrated or complacent with low engagement in whatever you offer employees. Download the free ebook, Now We’re Talking!, written by Jozito’s Bob Merberg and published by HES, to learn how it’s done.
It’s not just for walking clubs and smoking cessation programs. For example: Everyone’s talking about mental health, and lots of employers name EAP as their main mental health at work intervention. But EAP utilization is typically 4% or less (sadly, 7% is often considered good). When I oversaw EAP for an employer, utilization averaged between 14% and 18%… because, once we had excellent program pieces in place (integrating it with wellness, absence management, and other functions; implementing proactive EAP outreach to at-risk employees rather than just passively waiting to be contacted by those in crisis), we communicated about it: All the time. Everywhere.
Download the ebook and get started achieving the participation, engagement, and results you’ve always wanted.
When job burnout was first described by Christina Maslach et al, it was specific to caring professionals. Eventually, it was found that it can occur in all occupations and across all demographics. Physician and nurse burnout has been the hot topic the last few years, though a recent meta-analysis pointed out that there’s little that can be concluded about physician burnout because of the level of variation in definition and measurement (a lot of people disagree with this).
Studies have found that pervasiveness of Electronic Medical Records plays a big role in physician burnout. This makes sense, as it can be connected to several of the known burnout antecedents, especially autonomy/control, but also unsatisfactory social interaction and values conflict.
For anyone who wants to quickly get up-to-speed on burnout research, I recommend “Burnout: 35 years of research and practice,” authored by Schaufeli, Maslach, and Leiter.
What wellness vendors sell, and what employers buy, often contrasts with what employees want. Over the course of my career, I’ve heard directly from more than 100,000 employees via surveys and face-to-face interactions, and this is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned.
Using an unscientific approach, I’ve summarized some of the differences below. Continue reading »
Balancing Work and Life: Training for Supervisors — Intervention (Finland)in Workplace Mental Health Resources, -intervention
Balancing Work and Life: Training for Supervisors is a manual for a nine-hour training (ideally, three 3-hour sessions) that enhances supervisors’ ability and readiness to support their team members’ work/life balance, within the framework of their own workplace’s policies and culture. Continue reading »
When skillfully incorporated into a broader strategy, external recognition for wellness programs has the potential to be a win-win, serving both the employer and the employees.
In keeping with my recent theme of providing practical tools and tips for wellness managers who do the hard work of creating and operating employee wellness programs in complex corporate environments, I’m pleased to share this post I wrote for one of my clients.
14 Vendor Management Tips from a Wellness Industry Insiderin Uncategorized, Employee Wellness Programs, Featured
I’m pleased to provide these practical tips for wellness vendor management, one of the most demanding roles of employee wellness managers. Some of these — six tips for implementation and oversight, eight for selection and contracting — may be more relevant to larger corporations, but many are applicable to a spectrum of organizations and a variety of non-wellness vendors. They can help make a manager’s job easier, while eliciting higher levels of performance from vendors. Continue reading »
Behavior-Based Programs Have Their Place — Near The End Of An Employee Wellbeing Processin total worker health, Uncategorized, job design, job strain
I agree with the position paper, Behaviour-Based Safety Programs, recently published by The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF). An employer’s primary role in employee wellbeing is to protect employees from Continue reading »
A new year, a new opportunity for an employee benefits trade publication to randomly drop into an article a chart that makes less sense than a child’s finger-painting. (For legit. A finger-painting can’t be wrong. The chart is blatantly wrong.) Continue reading »
Organizational Justice (and Psychological Breach), Well Summarizedin Featured, industrial organizational psychology
Science For Work summarizes research-based evidence that can guide business management decisions, with emphasis on industrial and organizational psychology. Their recent post, Why You Should Consider Fairness When Designing Your Change Management Process, exemplifies the well-researched, practical, and engaging content this non-profit organization provides. The topic, organizational justice, can be difficult to comprehend by well-being professionals for whom organizational behavior is uncharted territory. But Science for Work does a fine job breaking it down. See their infographic (below) followed by my two cents, then head on over to ScienceForWork.com to learn more. Continue reading »
“It’s an epidemic and clearly one of the worst industrial medicine disasters that’s ever been described… Thousands of cases of the most severe form of black lung. And we’re not done counting yet.”
— Scott Laney, epidemiologist, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, quoted by NPR.
A gut-wrenching expose about coal miners and black lung disease warrants a special position as Number 11 on my list of Top 10 Employee Wellness Stories of 2018.
NPR and Frontline recently introduced findings from a multi-year investigation, reviewing data going back 20 years.
It’s too much detail to share here, but to get up to speed, you can: Continue reading »
California mandates that publicly traded companies based in the state have a minimum of one woman on their boards of directors by the end of 2019. If the new regulation survives anticipated legal challenges, representation will increase: By the end of July 2021, companies have to have at least 2 women on boards of 5 members; at least 3 women on larger boards.
If states can require corporations to place women on their boards, how far are we from Continue reading »
In 2018 a Huffington Post article, Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong, went viral, debunking myths about obesity and weight loss. It argued that the “war against obesity” has really been a war against obese people, fostering a culture that encourages fat shaming and alienates overweight people.
2 Slices of Bacon Daily Shortens Life by a Decade?
An article by Stanford’s John Ioannidis, which called for radical reform of nutritional research and went viral in research circles, argues that most studies tying nutrients to health outcomes are bunk.
Ioannidis illustrates his point by describing the real-life implications were we to assume studies of individual foods are legit:
…eating 12 hazelnuts daily would prolong life by 12 years (ie, 1 year per hazelnut), drinking 3 cups of coffee daily would achieve a gain of 12 years, and eating a single mandarin orange daily would add 5 years of life. Conversely, consuming 1 egg daily would reduce life expectancy by 6 years, and eating 2 slices of bacon daily would shorten life by a decade, an effect worse than smoking. Could these results possibly be true?
Ioannidis blames researchers’ failure to properly account for confounding factors:
Relatively uncommon chemicals within food…may be influential. Risk-conferring nutritional combinations may vary by an individual’s genetic background, metabolic profile, age, or environmental exposures. Disentangling the potential influence on health outcomes of a single dietary component from these other variables is challenging, if not impossible.
He also blames selective publication of studies that proclaim a correlation between a food and a health outcome over studies that show no correlation. And he throws shade on nutrition advocates…
Expert-driven guidelines shaped by advocates dictate what primary studies should report.
Ioannidis didn’t even dig into the type of academic misconduct described in the first story on my Top 10 list, Mindless Cheating.
The Good News
But there’s a valuable learning — making this Number 9 on my list of Top 10 Wellness Stories of the year — we can take from all these stories. The lessons from Ioannidis’ article and Huffpo’s obesity article are essentially the same.
Pursuit of continuous improvement in the promotion of employee well-being demands skepticism.
We have to maintain idealism to believe we can do better. My New Year’s resolution is to cultivate even more optimism in the pursuit of measurable progress, knowledge, and improvement.
True or False?
- No amount of exercise will make a difference if you sit 8 hours a day.
- The risks of trying to get all your exercise into one day per week outweigh the potential benefits.
- Benefits of physical activity like better sleep, reduced anxiety, improved cognition, reduced blood pressure, and improved insulin sensitivity take weeks or even months to appear. You can’t expect immediate results.
If you answered “True” to any of these statements, and they are typical of the kind of advice your wellness program participants receive, it’s probably time to update your knowledge. Check out the 2nd edition of Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Its release is 8th on my list of Top 10 Wellness Stories of 2018.
Did you miss the full list of Top 10 Wellness Stories? They are:
- Food Nudger Gets Caught with a Hand in the Cookie Jar
- Illinois Gets Its Fill of Noise as Wellness Study Sparks a Squabble
- Civility at Work: A Matter of Good Health
- West Virginia Teachers Give Outcomes-Based Wellness an “F”
- Getting to Work on Mental Health
- Musculoskeletal Disorder Comes of Age
- Our Quest for Employer Role Models Needs a Better Search
We’re often advised not to compare our lives to what we see from our friends on Facebook and Instagram. The theory goes: People tend to expose on social media only the best, happiest facets of their lives, and comparing our own ordinary existence to the world-traveling, fancy-food-eating filtered glimpses we get of Continue reading »
Not long ago, I attended a panel discussion in which an audience member asked the panelists what their organizations were doing to address mental health. No one had anything to say other than, “We offer an EAP.” A wave of ick swept over the room as the tragedy of this truth dawned upon us — the panelists and the audience.
Now, we hear increasingly about workplace mental health. I’ve shared many workplace mental health and psychological wellbeing resources here on the Jozito website.
These readily make clear that countries like Canada, European Union members, and Australia are far ahead of the US in their action planning, and I’ve previously written about Japan’s aggressive approach.
Will the US learn from other countries and develop an evidence-based agenda to address mental health in the workplace (and beyond)?
I’m optimistic and predict that evidence-based solutions prevail.
4th on the List of Top 10 Wellness Stories
In 2018, employee pushback against outcomes-based wellness went viral as it became a cause de celebre in the West Virginia teacher’s strike, a labor action that ultimately inspired others in a half dozen other states.
This was highlighted in Michael Moore’s Continue reading »
Yearning for Civility, “A Matter of Good Health”in Top 10 2018, industrial organizational psychology
Worldwide, a yearning for civility blossomed in 2018, and workplaces were no exception.
In addition to Christine Porath’s presentation at SHRM, civility surfaced on the agenda of major wellness conferences, and a prominent midwest health care system launched, with some fanfare, an introductory “Choose Civility” e-course. Continue reading »
I’ve written ad nauseam about the University of Illinois Workplace Wellness Study, so allow me to just explain why I’m optimistic about where it’s heading.
This evaluation of an employer’s fledgling wellness program gave wellness critics a rationale to declare employee wellness a failure. The evaluation data, which showed almost no positive outcomes during the program’s startup, is only preliminary and doesn’t say what critics say it says.
Brian Wansink, author of bestsellers like Mindless Eating and Slim by Design, recently had 13 of his research articles retracted and was nudged right out of his job as director of Cornell Food and Brand Lab, earning a spot on my list of 2018’s biggest wellness stories.
Even if you’ve never heard of Brian Wansink, you’ve probably been affected by his research. His studies, cited more than 20,000 times, are about how our environment shapes how we think about food, and what we end up consuming. He’s one of the reasons Big Food companies started offering smaller snack packaging, in 100 calorie portions. — Vox
Wansink led many headline-grabbing studies of eating behavior, showing, for example, that people eat less when food is served on smaller plates and that pre-ordering lunch leads to healthier choices. His work unleashed many employers’ nutritional wellness strategies, especially “making the healthy choice the easy choice.” Continue reading »
If a job has high Motivating Potential, the jobholders are more likely to feel their work is meaningful, to exhibit high levels of motivation, performance, and job satisfaction. If a job has low Motivating Potential, jobholders are more likely to exhibit negative outcomes, like absenteeism, turnover, and sluggish performance.
Score Your Job’s Motivating Potential (and learn about job design and well-being)in job design, industrial organizational psychology, job crafting
Take a test drive of the Job Diagnostics Survey (learn more about the Job Characteristics Model, Job Diagnostics Survey, and Job Motivating Potential in my previous post). These 15 questions generate a “Motivating Potential” score — High Motivating, Moderately Motivating, or Low Motivating — for your job. You’ll get the results instantly, along with brief insights into the components of the score and how to design jobs that are motivating and supportive of employee well-being.
Note: This survey is still in development and is available for demo purposes only. The original Job Diagnostics Survey was designed to produce relevant aggregate data when completed by multiple employees. Its creators cautioned against having just one individual complete it to assess a job.
Job Motivating Potential
Please answer all 15 questions. Be as objective as you can in deciding how accurately each statement describes your job — regardless of whether you like or dislike your job. For the first few questions, some of the answer choices don’t have statements beside them. Choose one of these “unlabeled” answers when your sentiment falls somewhere between two statements.
Crafting a Blog Post: Did a Wellness Program Lead to Increased Morale, Employee Engagement, and Job Satisfaction?in Uncategorized
Misconduct and Harassment Unmasked Beneath a Veneer of Psychological Safetyin Uncategorized, industrial organizational psychology
A recent Fast Company article gushes about a particular company’s culture of psychological safety — that is, its “employees’ ability to take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed.”
This is a company about which the Department of Labor once said, “Discrimination against women…is quite extreme.”
A New York Times article recently revealed that the company has protected, arguably even rewarded, executives accused of sexual misconduct. It described one exec who “often berated subordinates as stupid or incompetent.” The company “did little to curb that behavior.”
A screenshot the exec’s ex-wife included in a lawsuit, according to the Times, showed an email he sent to another woman: “You will be happy being taken care of,” he wrote. “Being owned is kinda like you are my property, and I can loan you to other people.”
In our quest for a psychological-safety poster child, we may need to conduct a better search.
The Serious Workplace Mental Health Solutions Take Shape Outside the USin Stress, job design, job strain
Pay attention to the science-backed workplace mental health frameworks that are taking shape outside the US, like those in Canada, Europe, and Australia.
In the US, the messaging of vendors and consultants tends to drown out science. Last year, for example, data from a meta-analysis — which included more than 120,000 research subjects — showed that job strain (the combination of high demands and low control at work) may lead to clinically diagnosed depression. This is consistent with a lot of other research that points us toward employer strategies for the primary prevention of mental health problems. But psychosocial risk and primary prevention are missing-in-action when we look at mental health resources made available by US employee wellness professional organizations and their vendors/consultant partners, .
Mental health crises — just like physical health crises — are mission critical, but this doesn’t mean we can’t prevent them before they happen and, what’s more, aspire to create workplace environments in which employee well-being flourishes.
Canada’s “Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace” is a compelling example of a social strategy to promote mental health in all its stages — emphasizing primary prevention. Find out more about Canada’s Standard and other science-backed workplace mental health strategies on the Jozito mental health resources hub.
Does your Employee Assistance Program proactively address workplace mental health? Are they reaching out and screening employees — like those out on disability, or who have recently given birth, or are dealing with grief, or who have a chronic disease — who are at risk for mental health problems?
Job Crafting in Practice — Examples from Google, Logitech, Burt’s Bees, and morein Uncategorized, job crafting
In 2013, Carol Harnett and Fran Melmed interviewed Bob Merberg for their CoHealth CheckUp podcast (which is no longer in production). They asked him to discuss a “great idea that didn’t work out.” In this 2-minute answer, he talks about a positive psychology intervention designed to help employees cultivate happiness.
You can listen to the entire interview here.
This American Psychiatric Association site “provides employers the tools, resources and information needed to promote and support the mental health of employees and their families.”
Though the site doesn’t significantly address primary prevention, APA’s Center for Workplace Mental Health site does cover important topics that have not yet been addressed on many other sites, such as:
Continue reading »
Heads Up: Better Mental Health in the Workplace – Website (AUS)in Workplace Mental Health Resources, -website
Mental Health First Aid at Work – Intervention (US)in Workplace Mental Health Resources, -intervention
Being a Mindful Employee – An Orientation to Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace – E-Course (CAN)in Workplace Mental Health Resources, -e-learning
Interventions to Reduce Mental Ill-Health in the Workplace – Research (AUS)in Workplace Mental Health Resources, -guidance
People Managers’ Guide to Mental Health – Guidance (UK)in Workplace Mental Health Resources, -guidance
Especially useful for tips on how managers can identify and respond to signs that an employee is struggling and how to reduce stigma around mental health problems, The People Managers’ Guide to Mental Health is a production of CIPD (UK’s organization of human resources professionals) and the UK charity, Mind.
Continue reading »
For practitioners, this resource may not have as much immediate practical value as some of the others, but should be of interest to those seeking thoroughly and regularly reviewed expert analysis of best evidence-based practices for supporting mental health at work.
Continue reading »
This website from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety includes resources that acknowledge a broad range of mental health issues that emerge at work, Continue reading »
ICU: Identify, Connect, Understand – Intervention (US)in Workplace Mental Health Resources, -intervention
A unique website from the Health in Construction Leadership Group, seeking to raise awareness by addressing the stigma of poor mental health and improving positive mental well-being in the construction industry. Continue reading »
The European Union’s Mental Health Promotion in the Workplace – A Good Practice Report features 13 case studies from various European countries.
Five large-employer case studies that focus on:
- Development of policies and practices that promote mental health in the workplace
- Monitoring and effectiveness of these policies and practices
HSE Stress-at-Work Management Standards – Intervention (UK)in Workplace Mental Health Resources, -intervention
One of the most complete systems for proactively assessing and addressing stress at work, the UK’s Health Safety Executive offers tools and guidelines based on its “management standards” – six main areas of work design that effect stress levels:
Assembling the Pieces: An Implementation Guide to the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace – Guidance (CAN)in Workplace Mental Health Resources, -guidance
Canada’s voluntary Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace exemplifies a nationwide strategy to promote the psychosocial wellbeing of workers, with emphasis on primary prevention. Continue reading »
Studying the Study: Different Kinds of Analysis Yield Contradictory Results For Illinois Wellness Studyin Uncategorized
This is Part II of a 2-part post. Check out Part I, Does The Illinois Workplace Wellness Study Say What Everyone Says It Says?.
A lot of questions remain about if and how these programs work. We have observed results for only the first year of our intervention. We are continuing to collect data to evaluate effects in the second and third years.
— Illinois Workplace Wellness Study website
The University of Illinois study rolls on as the researchers demonstrate they are eager to uncover the truth and not just confirm over-simplified pre-existing notions about whether wellness works or doesn’t work. Notice that they called their paper, “What Do Workplace Wellness Programs Do?” rather than using a title that declares the issue put to rest, like, say, “Workplace Wellness Doesn’t Work.”
Ultimately, they may very well find that the Illinois program doesn’t yield the desired outcomes (potentially a real kick in the pants for Aetna, one of the researchers’ “collaborators”). Or that it does. If we knew for sure, there’d be no point in the study.
Personally, I’ve never had any reason to believe a wellness program would reduce an employer’s health care costs. But, so far, there isn’t anything in this study I’d cite to support that opinion.
Randomized Controlled Trials vs. Observational Studies
One of the most interesting things about the study is its design. It’s a randomized controlled trial (RCT) — a rare sighting in the world of wellness — and the researchers compared their findings to what they would’ve concluded if their data came from a an observational study (the kind that almost all our healthy lifestyle guidance is based on — from “physical activity is good for you” to “don’t inhale too much asbestos”), potentially explaining, as Aaron Carroll argues in his column, why some wellness studies show that wellness does work. Or, as one of the Illinois study’s principal investigators wrote to me in a private correspondence, “Methodology matters.”
Even when methods are about as good as can be, we probably should never trust a single study with high confidence…Take, for example, the randomized controlled trial (RCT). It’s reasonably considered the gold standard of social science methods. When you read the results of a well-conducted RCT, does that mean you can take them and run with it? Not so fast. They may not apply outside the population studied.
– Austin Frakt, co-editor with Aaron Carroll of the Incidental Economist, in Limitations: The Achilles Heel of Single-Study Relevance
No Reason to Expect Improvement
The Illinois Wellness study is and will continue to be important. It has the potential to deliver actionable insights into the value of incentives; the profile of employees who tend to engage in wellness programs; the types of programs that are and aren’t effective; and, ultimately, the behavioral, health, financial, and productivity outcomes we can expect from comparable programs.
For the university, the iThrive program is a good start — more thoroughly thought-out than most new programs. (Thanks to the study’s transparency, a large employer seeking to launch a wellness program could use the study’s published material to develop a program template — though I’d recommend skipping the incentives and the screenings, and adding longer-range plans for a more comprehensive strategy.) But that’s what it is — a start.
In a non-study situation, smart leaders of a “comprehensive” program, seeing that Year 1 activities had no effect on anything, would undertake a quality improvement process and make adjustments accordingly. After all, if there aren’t any behavior changes in Year 1 — and environment, culture, and work design aren’t even on the radar — there’s no reason to expect health, financial, or productivity improvements in the following years.
I admire the researchers’ refraining from sensational conclusions based on their Year 1 data. Now, it’s up to thought leaders with a media platform, and up to us — those responsible for applying research findings to our programs — to exercise the same restraint.
Does The Illinois Workplace Wellness Study Say What Everyone Says It Says?in Employee Wellness Programs
Seems like every month, the University of Illinois workplace wellness study re-enters the limelight, and earlier this month Aaron Carroll, MD really shoved it center stage in his New York Times piece, Workplace Wellness Programs Don’t Work Well. Why Some Studies Show Otherwise.
This was a randomized controlled study of an employee wellness program. To date, the study results have shown no improvement in health behaviors, health care costs, or productivity. To date.
You can read the full study paper published on the Bureau of Economic Research website. But if you’re not one to wade through a swamp of statistics, check out the study’s very own website for info, updates, and bar charts galore.
Does Feeling Valued Count?
Rather than cherry-picking the facts, allow me to just suggest questions to consider as you learn more about this study:
What does “doesn’t work” mean, anyway? Work to do what?
The study found that the number of program participants who believed their employer was committed to their health and safety increased significantly as an effect of the intervention. Is this important?
In the study paper, how many times do the researchers make the claim that has captured the imagination of Dr. Carroll and many others in the business and health care media, that “wellness doesn’t work”? (You can cheat by using your browser’s “Find” function. Or take a guess. It’s somewhere between -1 and +1.)
Was the study published in a peer-reviewed journal?
“I heavily favor peer-reviewed work.”
— Aaron Carroll, in The Power (and Weakness) of Peer Review, 2011.
How many employers, and how many different kinds of wellness strategies, were included in this study of the University of Illinois wellness program (called iThrive)?
Let’s say you’re running a program for a global manufacturing company or a tech start-up. How comparable is your employee population to the employees at University of Illinois?
A Comprehensive Wellness Program
iThrive is said to be a “comprehensive” wellness program. In my mind, a comprehensive wellness program might include some behavioral programs, cultural strategies, environmental strategies, and, most importantly, organizational strategies that promote healthy work.
Is this a comprehensive program? You be the judge. The core activies and strategies of iThrive:
- Biometric health screenings
- Health risk assessments
- Participation incentives
- Participation in “one of several activities in the fall and then again in the spring.” Activities included classes on chronic disease management; weight management; tai chi; physical fitness; financial wellness; healthy workplace habits; a tobacco cessation hotline; and an online, self-paced wellness challenge.”
A “Post-Intervention” Time Warp?
- Screenings were conducted from August 15 to September 16, 2016.
- Health risk assessment was conducted from September 8 to October 4.
- Fall wellness activities were held October 10 to December 16.
- Spring wellness activities were held January 30 to April 25, 2017.
- “Post-intervention” healthcare utilization was measured for the period August 1, 2016 through July 31, 2017.
Thinking carefully about this timeline, what changes in healthcare utilization patterns would you expect during the first year of the program?
Keep these questions in mind. And I hope you’ll pose a lot more of your own when you read about future findings from this and other studies.
Check out Part II of this post, Studying the Study: Different Kinds of Analysis Yield Contradictory Results For Illinois Wellness Study.
We all need to educate ourselves and stretch our creative muscles regarding blockchain and, maybe, cryptocurrency. It’s a bummer blockchain is so hard to understand, but that’s no reason to dismiss it.
Blockchain will be used to store medical records and also to accelerate the advancement of medical research. Cryptocurrency could be incorporated into employees’ Total Rewards packages. And, if the will is there, it may be used to advance more participatory workplace practices — representing real progress for employee wellbeing.
Civil, an application of blockchain and cryptocurrency, is focused on democratizing journalism (not workplaces or employment — though they do say their own employees have “equity/token opportunity”). Still, Civil’s model, in which currency represents not nothing — the accusation commonly and rightly leveled against, say, Bitcoin — but influence.
Imagine influence issued as an employee benefit. At first blush, it may seem unlikely — but not if viewed as a future iteration of employee ownership, co-ops, or even stock options and other equity awards.
You’ve probably read dozens of Blockchain-for-Dummies explainers and still don’t get it. Here’s one I’ve found helpful:
And an employer’s unique application of blockchain to protect workers in non-US countries:
The Future of Workplace Wellbeing – As Seen by the “Redesigning Wellness” Podcastin Uncategorized, Employee Wellness Programs
There’s been a lot of talk lately about how to take wellness past well-being and into the future. Specifically, how can we expand beyond physical health and, as wellness professionals, deliver maximum value to our organizations.
Check out the milestone 100th episode of Jen Arnold‘s Redesigning Wellness podcast.
As a result of all the interviews she’s conducted, combined with her own experience and insight, Jen has her finger on the pulse of employee wellness more than just about anyone.
In this solo episode, Jen — with her characteristic candor — systematically lays out a case for a new vision of wellness and previews exciting opportunities she’s creating for wellness professionals who want to make good things happen.
Listen to “Celebrating 100 Episodes” on the Redesigning Wellness podcast wherever you usually get podcasts, or stream it here…
Organizational Culture Is Rooted in Organic Interactionin industrial organizational psychology, job crafting
“What Do Companies Mean by Culture?” is a fascinating article from Scientific American’s “Workplace Anthropology” series.
Right down to the way it uses the word “organic,” the article aligns with my recent post about the importance of a work environment that encourages employees to craft their own “fun at work,” rather than simply having fun activities prescribed:
And the best cultural markers are those that aren’t imposed on employees—mandatory game night or spin classes!—but are those that are formulated by employees. These create a shared sense of continuity, which creates the foundations for trust and support and strengthens the bonds between people. Organizational culture is rooted in the ways companies encourage these organic interactions but also in how they support their employees themselves.
Webinar: Wellness, Wellbeing, and Workforce Sustainability — 3 Routes to Employee Wellness and Optimal Performancein Uncategorized, Wellbeing, Employee Wellness Programs, Stress
Big thanks to the folks at Lumity, Inc. for inviting me to present the webinar “Wellness, Wellbeing, and Workforce Sustainability: 3 Routes to Employee Wellness and Optimal Performance.” If you missed it, check out the recording.
In this orderly mash-up, I present about 40 years of work in 33 minutes (plus Q&A). It has something for everyone — from the HR generalist who’s been assigned to wellness but may not know much about it, to veteran managers of comprehensive programs trying to figure out what does and doesn’t work. I cover
- the premise of health risk costs and risk reduction;
- the distinctions between wellness and wellbeing;
- ROI vs. VOI;
- typical wellness program components;
- work, stress, and health;
- job crafting.
Without being overly prescriptive, I offer my own interpretations of evidence and practices, some of which you’ll find immediately applicable and some of which will irk you to no end. This link, exclusively for my blog readers, takes you directly to the recording.
The Play’s the Thing: Two Brilliant Articles from Different Generations Shed Light on Fun and Workin job crafting
Viewed through the lens of job crafting, “Banana Time: Job Satisfaction and Informal Interaction,” a classic in the annals of organizational studies, offers clues about how to foster real “fun at work” that can boost employee wellbeing and, with any luck, improve business results.
If you were absent the day they assigned Banana Time in Industrial Sociology class, I highly recommend this unique article. Sociologist Donald Roy’s story, embedding himself in a small group of die press operators, was published in 1959 and is unlike anything else you’ve read in a journal. At times it’s humorous, sarcastic, and self-deprecating. And it’s always empathetic.
Roy didn’t set out specifically to explore fun at work. He primarily was studying how laborers coped with tedious work. He also sought to “penetrate the mysteries of the small group,” recognizing there might be a relationship between surviving monotony — and it’s “twin brother,” fatigue — and the human relations that take place among co-workers.
Roy describes the isolation he and his small cadre of co-workers experienced:
…This was truly a situation of laissez-faire management. There was no interference from staff experts, no hounding by time-study engineers or personnel men hot on the scent of efficiency or good human relations. Nor were there any signs of industrial democracy in the form of safety, recreational, or production committees.
Roy cites forerunners who described humans’ irrepressible impulse to engage in play, which can help “the worker find some meaning in any activity assigned to him.”
Short-Range Production Goals with Achievement Rewards
He shares his experience of this impulse, in the initial days before he interacted with the three other die press operators — “clicker operators,” as Roy called them — in his work area. He cognitively crafted what he called “the game of work”:
‘As soon as I finish a thousand of the green ones, I’ll click some brown ones.’ And, with success in attaining the objective of working with brown materials, a new goal of ‘I’ll get to do the white ones’ might be set. Or the new goal might involve switching dies.
“Thus,” Roy writes, “the game of work might be described as a continuous sequence of short-range production goals with achievement rewards in the form of activity change.”
Ultimately, he acknowledges, “These games were not as interesting in the experiencing as they might seem to be from the telling.”
After his first week, however, Roy realizes that another game — one played daily by his co-workers — is taking place.
Looking Forward to Banana Time
First, he notices a regular pattern of horseplay and teasing. In one example, one of the clicker operators, Ike, would steal a banana from the lunchbox of another, Sammy:
Ike would gulp it down by himself after surreptitiously extracting it from Sammy’s lunch box, kept on a shelf behind Sammy’s work station. Each morning, after making the snatch, Ike would call out, “Banana time!” and proceed to down his prize while Sammy made futile protests and denunciations. The banana was one which Sammy brought for his own consumption at lunch time; he never did get to eat his banana, but kept bringing one for his lunch. At first this daily theft startled and amazed me. Then I grew to look forward to the daily seizure and the verbal interaction which followed.
Roy describes a variety of “time” activities the workers wove into their daily work routine. Many revolved around refreshments, such as peach time, a daily mid-morning ritual in which Sammy shared two peaches with the other press operators. There were also coffee time, Coke time, and many other “times,” including, of course, quitting time.
(Sorry Family Guy fans… No peanut butter and jelly time!)
Team Job Crafting
These playful activities, initiated organically (that is, intrinsically) within the group, are a form of team job crafting. They met specific employee needs like social support and relief from monotony, and were enjoyed by everyone who chose to engage. Contrast organic, worker-crafted fun with activities planned by management or by a fun-at-work committee.
Banana Time and the other “times” are examples of relational (social) crafting. (For an overview of job crafting, including relational, cognitive, and task crafting, see my previous post: I Have Seen the Future of Employee Wellbeing. It’s Name Is Job Crafting.)
Roy observed other kinds of social interaction, as well, and the influence they all had on what we now call the employee experience:
The interaction was there, in constant flow. It captured attention and held interest to make the long day pass. The 12 hours of “click, —move die, click, — move die” became as easy to endure as 8 hours of varied activity. The “beast of boredom” was gentled to the harmlessness of a kitten.
Seven Lessons for Workplace Leaders
It may feel like a stretch, at first, to apply Roy’s 1959 die press operator experience to the modern workplace, but it suggests no less than seven insights relevant to most modern work situations:
- Workers engage in playfulness to remain stimulated.
- Fun delays or cloaks fatigue.
- Workers use gamification to find meaning in their work.
- Playful rituals during the workday are used to mark time and support short-term intrinsic motivation.
- Workplace fun often revolves around food and beverages.
- Playing with others is more meaningful than playing alone.
- Informal interaction between members of a work group is important for job satisfaction.
As for management goals, Roy posed one possibility: “Leavening the boredom of individualized work routines with a concurrent flow of group festivities had a negative effect on turnover.”
He observed that the more he played the less tired he felt, which may have positive implications for productivity, but Roy neither measured productivity nor speculated about it.
One of Roy’s most important observations, in my opinion, is that, given the opportunity, workers craft their own fun, especially via social interaction.
Job Crafting, Gamification, and Play
Arnold Bakker and Marianne van Woerkom, in last year’s article “Flow at Work: a Self-Determination Perspective,” posit that job crafting and “designing work to be playful” are two strategies workers use to satisfy basic needs, which leads to improved job performance. They cite (as Roy did) a well accepted theory that humans have a “natural tendency” for play. And they point to research suggesting that fun at work “leads to higher job satisfaction, morale, pride in work, creativity, service quality, as well as lower burnout and absenteeism.”
Echoing Roy’s experience of cognitive game-playing before he discovered Banana Time (Remember? “As soon as I finish a thousand green ones, I’ll click some brown ones”), Bakker and van Woerkom share testimonials from people who gamified their work, such as one HR manager who said:
When I need to work on a boring, bureaucratic task, I gamify it by building additional tasks into the boring task. One option is to fill out the form using the fewest words possible yet covering all the content that must be addressed. This makes it a writing challenge and so, more interesting.
Bakker and van Woerkom conclude,
Proactively creating conditions at work that foster play – to which we will refer to as “playful work design” could therefore be an effective strategy to increase flow at work.
(Flow at work, the author’s explain, is “a short-term peak experience characterized by absorption, work enjoyment, and intrinsic work motivation.”)
Beyond “Fun” Activities at Work
Bakker and van Woerkom focus on individual gamification, which Roy found to be “not as interesting in the experiencing as it might seem to be from the telling,” rather than socially interactive play. Nevertheless, their research affirms Roy’s finding 50 years ago: workers will find ways to craft fun into their work. And the authors encourage leaders to create conditions that encourage workers to do so.
For today’s manager, the lesson is clear: Ping-pong tables, office scooters, outings, office parades, and dress-up-as-whatever days in the office are all well-and-good, but more important is an environment that supports employees crafting their own fun. (The foremost benefit of social outings, office parties, and other gatherings — especially when accompanied by autonomy designed into the work — may be to provide opportunities to interact in ways that foster future fun and relational job crafting.)
When all is said and done, as we contemplate Roy’s insights, as well as the theories advanced by Bakker and van Woerkom, we may conclude that trying to provide fun at work needn’t be nearly as high a priority as enabling the fun of work.
Thank you to Dmitrijs Kravcenko and team, who introduced me to Donald Roy and Banana Time via their remarkable podcast “Talking About Organizations.” Check it out. Start with the first episode, or jump right in with their discussion of Banana Time.
It’s easy to imagine how a white collar employee like a project manager or a data scientist might engage in job crafting. But what about, say, a machine operator or a restaurant server? Do they have enough flexibility to refashion the tasks, relationships, and other building blocks of work to more effectively match their strengths and needs?
Crafting any job presents challenges. But it can be successful across the full spectrum of occupations. Research I’ve previously described, as a matter of fact, included a wide variety of jobs: Silicon Valley tech workers, teachers, hospital housekeepers, chemical plant workers, police officers, and nurses, to name a few.
Less Flexibility May Mean More Job Crafting
Job crafting pioneers Justin Berg, Jane Dutton, and Amy Wrzesniewski tell us — in Job Crafting and Meaningful Work — why it can be easier for employees in highly structured, lower-status jobs to engage in crafting compared to those with more flexibility:
Since their jobs included tasks that had clear means and ends established (e.g., “you should service this machine using the following steps,” or “you must enter these data in this way”), it was easier for them to see the “white space” in their jobs—i.e., where they could fit in new tasks or relationships or drop tasks and relationships that were not very important.
Berg and company go on to describe, in contrast, the challenges of crafting a flexible, typically white-collar, job:
Lack of structure, combined with the continuous pressure to pursue their end goals, seemed to make it more difficult for [“higher-rank employees”] to recognize opportunities to craft their jobs. In other words, to color outside the lines of a job, one needs lines there in the first place.
We talk a lot about the importance of autonomy for employee wellbeing — and for job crafting, specifically. But more autonomy or less, at either extreme, may be suboptimal. The sweet spot lies somewhere in between.
The 3-minute video below summarizes an article — Who Built Maslow’s Pyramid? A History of the Creation of Management Studies’ Most Famous Symbol and Its Implications for Management Education — to be published in the journal, Learning and Education.
The article argues that Maslow never conceptualized the pyramid commonly used to illustrate his Hierarchy of Needs. The figure was developed by a consultant seeking to simplify Maslow’s theory for corporate clients, and it distorted Maslow’s work in the process.
Maslow’s theory aside, we can find a broader learning here. The phrases “some consultant,” “distorted,” and “overly simplistic,” remind me that consultants and other practitioners do, indeed, habitually oversimplify and distort theories of employee wellbeing.
In the employee benefits and wellness spheres, a couple of examples of oversimplification come to mind:
- Consultants and other practitioners increasingly cite Self-Determination Theory, which says that autonomy, competence, and relatedness are prerequisites for human flourishing. But many present the theory as a simple explanation of behavioral motivation and are hard-pressed to explain what relatedness is or how it fits in.
- Behavioral economics is a trendy framework consistently misrepresented. Wellness consultants have described it as a theory of intrinsic motivation. Behavioral economists, however, will assert that there is no such thing as intrinsic motivation. If behavioral economics had to be bucketed as one or the other, it could only be considered — with its warm embrace of incentives and other manipulative techniques — a framework for extrinsic motivation.
Scholars resent such oversimplification. But I’d be cautious about one-sidedly indicting consultants.
Perhaps scholars should endeavor to communicate their theories and findings in a manner more accessible to lay practitioners. Were relatedness and competence really the best terms to communicate what’s intended in Self-Determination Theory? Indeed, delve into the details of Self-Determination Theory, and you’re likely to find it nearly incomprehensible to non-psychologists. The theory picked up steam outside psychology circles mostly after Daniel Pink simplified it in his bestseller, Drive.
Similarly, behavioral economics has repeatedly been distorted by TED-talk superstars who have little or no training in either behavior, economics, or any combination of the two.
We wellness professionals would benefit by reading fewer bestsellers and more journal articles. I might also suggest that scholars — in order to learn how to reach an audience of practitioners with minimal distortion before TED talkers and bestselling authors pull the rug out from under them — study fewer journal articles and more bestsellers.
Perhaps a consultant would not have created Maslow’s pyramid, and it would not have taken hold to the extent it has, if Maslow or another scholar had more effectively illustrated his ideas.
[Hat tip to Kuldeep Singh, who shared the “Who Built Maslow’s Pyramid” article on LinkedIn, and Rob Briner, who shared the video in the lively discussion that ensued. This blog post is adapted from comments I contributed to that discussion.]
In 2015, Japan passed a law requiring businesses with 50 or more employees to offer workers an annual assessment — the “Stress Check” — which measures risk of stress and other mental health concerns based on three domains:
- Psychosocial and other stressors in the work environment, including job demands, job control (autonomy), work intensity, and sense of purpose.
- Mental and physical symptoms of stress like irritability, exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, musculoskeletal discomfort, difficulty sleeping.
- Social support, including connection with supervisors, co-workers, and loved ones.
The Japanese government recommends their 57-question assessment tool, the Brief Job Stress Questionnaire (BJSQ). Take a look at the English version here. Employers can use alternative questionnaires, but they’re required to include the same domains — workplace stressors, symptoms, and support.
The law — designed to help prevent stress in response to an epidemic of stress-related death and disease — mandates that
- Employees are given the results of their Stress Check.
- Employees found to be at high-risk for potentially harmful stress are referred to a physician.
- Employers modify stressful work conditions (such as schedules, work location, or responsibilities) in collaboration with high-risk employees’ physicians.
The law encourages employers to improve the workplace environment based on analysis of their group’s data. Specific interventions aren’t prescribed, although models and case studies are available.
The law prohibits release of employees’ data to employers without the employee’s permission, and it prohibits discrimination based on Stress Check participation or results. Though employers are required to offer the Stress Check, workers aren’t required to participate.
No one’s advocating a program like this outside Japan, but it should evoke dialog among wellbeing professionals and enlighten how we view job stress.
- Japan — like much of Europe, Canada, and the US’s NIOSH — recognizes that job stress is rooted in workplace risk factors: lack of autonomy, role ambiguity, job insecurity, lack of social support, excessive demands, harsh environments, inadequate rewards, work/life conflict, and unfair treatment.
The Stress Check questionnaire draws on a growing body of evidence showing that it does, indeed, identify people who are at high risk of mental health-related disability.
As for intervention… There’s a lot of experimentation to be done before we can definitively say what works. To date, evidence supports organizational change more than personal interventions to prevent worker stress.
Recently, a small initial study failed to demonstrate positive outcomes for either the questionnaire alone or for workplace interventions alone. However, the researchers reported:
Combining the annual stress survey with improvement in the psychosocial work environment can effectively reduce psychological distress.
Like it or hate it, the Stress Check program is innovative. We’re reminded that innovation is not always technology driven. We need innovators to follow Japan’s example and take a fresh look at our job stress paradigms.
Oodles of studies that include workers with diverse jobs in various countries show that JD-R job crafting is an employee-forward way to improve person-job fit — a win-win for employees and employers. It leads to improved wellbeing, stronger work engagement, better adaptability to change, and more productive job performance.
But when it comes to pulling their job demands and resources into an ideal level of balance — ie. JD-R job crafting — workers often aren’t aware of the possibility, and some aren’t confident in their ability to do it. Then again, some employers haven’t yet come to appreciate job crafting or don’t know how to inspire it.
These are among the reasons we, especially those of us trained and experienced in operationalizing workplace wellbeing programs, want to know how to structure JD-R job crafting interventions and what kinds of interventions work.
In a previous post, I reported studies of what I dubbed “Job Crafting Classic,” the original model proposed by Wrzesniewski, Dutton, and Berg.
Here, let’s navigate the more rugged terrain of the JD-R job crafting landscape. The following are studies of JD-R job crafting interventions — almost every study I could find. Almost all are based on a “quasi-experimental” design, meaning that — consistent with most studies of workplace interventions — neither the participant group nor the control group was selected randomly. They’re mostly pre- and post-test study designs, meaning measurements — of things like job crafting behaviors, work engagement, levels of demands and resources, and job performance — were measured before the intervention and after.
This is a relatively detailed overview, with links to the original studies in case you want more detail. If you’re in a rush, there’s an abbreviated version on LinkedIn.
4-Week Job Crafting Intervention for Police District Employees
Van den Heuvel et al paved the way with phased intervention for employees of a police district. The first stage was a one-day workshop that taught participants about JD-R job crafting; had them assess the current state of their demands and resources; and raised their awareness of opportunities to find more meaning and satisfaction in their jobs via crafting. The workshop concluded with creation of a job crafting plan. This was followed by four weeks of independent work on their plan, which included two or three goals per week. At the end of the study period, a half-day “reflection session” was held.
The study included 39 employees in a Dutch police district and 47 employees in a control group.
Outcomes: Increased wellbeing; increased self-efficacy (confidence in one’s ability to effect their situation); greater access to developmental opportunities. (The same team recently published another study (in Dutch) of a similar intervention — with only one goal per week and more participant interaction between each other and with the trainers — with 83 civil servants. They found increases in job crafting behaviors, increases in access to job resources, and improved wellbeing, compared to controls).
The researchers found the findings of their police district study, generally, to be “not significant.” But they concluded,
The job crafting intervention seems to have potential to enable employees to proactively build a motivating work environment and to improve their own well‐being.
Van den Heuvel, Machteld, Evangelia Demerouti, and Maria CW Peeters. “The job crafting intervention: Effects on job resources, self‐efficacy, and affective well‐being.” Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 88.3 (2015): 511-532. This pilot intervention was originally described with additional detail in Van den Heuvel, Machteld, Evangelia Demerouti, and Maria Peeters. “Succesvol job craften door middel van een groepstraining.” Scherp in werk 5 (2012): 27-49. [Dutch], worth noting because it may be the first published study of a JD-R job crafting intervention.
Simplified Job Crafting Intervention for Medical Specialists and Nurses
Intervention: Gordon et al tested a fine-tuned version of the 4-week intervention (above). They explained: “As the eﬀects found by Van den Heuvel and colleagues were rather weak, we modiﬁed their intervention in several respects. Adjustments were made to the intervention to increase individuals’ understanding and application of job crafting behaviors into their daily work…”
The intervention started with a three-hour workshop in which participants learned about JD-R job crafting — seeking resources, seeking challenges, and reducing demands. It encouraged participants to learn from their own or others’ real–life experiences by sharing stories of how their proactive behavior changed their thoughts, feelings, or relationships at work. The workshops were customized to support the employer and its workers during a period of organizational change. At the end of the workshop, participants created individual job crafting plans to follow for next three weeks.
The team conducted one study with 119 medical specialists and another with 58 nurses. The interventions were customized for each group based on the needs of the organization and the employees during a period of organizational change.
Outcomes: Overall, the participants experienced increases in their job crafting behaviors, improved wellbeing, and better performance compared to controls. The medical specialists improved adaptive performance — that is, their ability to effectively modify behavior in response to changes at work. Consistent with other JD-R research, reducing demands did not clearly lead to positive outcomes — a dynamic that’s not yet fully understood.
The interventions led to “medium to large” increases in job crafting behavior and wellbeing.
The researchers concluded that the intervention was…
…a promising job redesign intervention strategy that individual employees can use to improve their well-being and job performance… Individual and organizational interests … can be integrated by adopting the theoretical framework of the ‘job demands-resources model.’
Gordon, Heather J., et al. “Individual job redesign: job crafting interventions in healthcare.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 104 (2018): 98-114.
Blending The Job Crafting Exercise and JD-R Interventions for Healthcare Workers
Van Wingerden published several studies of job crafting interventions in recent years. She and her team published a relatively early study of a JD-R job crafting intervention, delivering a hybrid of the style of interventions described above and the Michigan Job Crafting Exercise™. The subjects were 67 healthcare workers who diagnose, identify, and treat hearing-impaired patients.
The intervention led to increased work engagement and improved job performance in the participants. Van Wingerden continued to use this “hybrid” (my word) intervention, weaving the JD-R model into the Job Crafting Exercise framework, in other studies.
Wingerden, Jessica van, Arnold B. Bakker, and Daantje Derks. “A test of a job demands-resources intervention.” Journal of Managerial Psychology 31.3 (2016): 686-701.
Comparing Resource Interventions and Job Crafting Interventions for Special Education Teachers
Van Wingerden et al compared different interventions for primary school special education teachers at multiple sites: 26 participants took part in an intervention geared exclusively to increasing personal resources (specifically, psychological capital… hope, optimism, self-efficacy, and resilience); 32 participated in a complete job crafting intervention; 26 participated in a combined personal resources and job crafting intervention. 18 study subjects were assigned to a control group.
The study found…
- The personal resources intervention improved work engagement
- Job crafting intervention can, in contrast to Van den Heuval’s study above, increase employees’ job crafting behavior.
- An intervention combining personal resources and job crafting leads to improved performance, but not increased work engagement.
The researchers concluded that job crafters probably should focus on increasing resources if they seek to boost work engagement. They suggested that, in addition to interventions, senior managers could do more to support employees’ balance of demands and resources, especially by expanding available resources.
Van Wingerden, Jessica, Daantje Derks, and Arnold B. Bakker. “The impact of personal resources and job crafting interventions on work engagement and performance.” Human Resource Management 56.1 (2017): 51-67. [first published in 2015]
Lasting Effects of Job Crafting in Teachers
Van Wingerden took it a step further in a study of 75 teachers, in which she and her team evaluated the sustainability of outcomes one year after completion of a JD-R job crafting intervention, in addition to the measurements they took shortly after the intervention’s conclusion.
They found that
- Participants exhibited significantly increased job crafting behaviors one week after the intervention was completed and 1 year later.
- Feedback, professional development, and self-efficacy resources had increased at the conclusion and one year after the job crafting intervention.
- Significant performance improvements weren’t found at the conclusion of the study, but were found one year after the intervention. The researchers explained this lag by suggesting that participants increased their challenge job demands during the intervention, which could result in a short-term suppression of performance improvement but long-term growth.
The job crafting intervention may be a promising tool to facilitate a resourceful work environment which enables employees to achieve their personal and organizational goals.
(This study, which focused on reducing hindering demands, did not lead to increased work engagement — a recurring finding in JD-R studies. A study Van Wingerden led and published in 2017, Fostering Employee Well-Being Via a Job Crafting Intervention, however, found that an intervention focused on increasing challenge demands did lead to increased work engagement.)
Van Wingerden, Jessica, Arnold B. Bakker, and Daantje Derks. “The longitudinal impact of a job crafting intervention.” European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 26.1 (2017): 107-119.
Broad Study on Effects of Job Crafting Opportunities
Finally, Van Wingerden and Poell published a study in 2017 that, based on questionnaire responses of 2,090 Dutch employees from various walks of life, supports the value of job crafting interventions: “Results indicated that individuals who experience a high level of opportunities to craft reported higher levels of job crafting behavior. In turn, perceived opportunities to craft and job crafting behavior related to higher levels of work engagement and subsequently performance.” [Emphasis added.] Interventions are one means of creating “opportunities” to craft jobs.
The research team advised:
Managers who positively influence employees’ perceived opportunities to craft before offering job crafting interventions, in the organization, can create optimal conditions that may in fact strengthen intervention effects.
Wingerden, Jessica Van, and Rob F. Poell. “Employees’ Perceived Opportunities to Craft and In-Role Performance: The Mediating Role of Job Crafting and Work Engagement.” Frontiers in psychology 8 (2017): 1876.
“Awareness” Intervention in Chemical Plant Workers
Tims et al surveyed chemical plant workers regarding their levels of demands, resources, work engagement, job satisfaction, and burnout. Surveys were sent at the outset and at the conclusion of a 2-month study period, with another survey specific to job crafting sent midway. All participants received standardized feedback that scored their levels of job demands and resources, with examples illustrating how demands and resources can be crafted by employees. 288 workers completed all three surveys and were, therefore, included in the analysis.
(This study generally isn’t described as an intervention, but it obviously is one — more of an “awareness” campaign rather than a behavioral intervention, but an intervention all the same. In health promotion terms, it’s comparable to, say, assessing someone’s level of physical activity and, if it’s low, providing boilerplate feedback on the risk of sedentary lifestyle and strategies people use to add physical activity into their life. The fact we aren’t telling them what they have to do or that they have to do anything at all doesn’t mean it’s not an intervention. In fact, it would be a fairly typical health intervention.)
Access to different types of resources had increased for respondents who reported, at the midway point, that they craft resources. This was positively related to increased engagement and job satisfaction, and decreased burnout. Those who said they craft job demands did not necessarily experience a change in job demands, but crafting challenge demands was linked to increases in wellbeing. This is consistent with findings in other studies that suggest, perhaps counter-intuitively, that positive outcomes may be rooted in the empowerment to engage in job crafting, if not with actual changes in resources and, especially, demands.
These researchers offered this caution:
Our results do not suggest that employees should be held responsible for their work environment and well-being. Rather, they suggest that management interventions should focus more on the effects of job demands on employee well-being because employees seem to change their job demands less often than their job resources.
These results obviously suggest that employees can optimize their own well-being when allowed to. Therefore, organizations should not only facilitate employee well-being by providing sufficient job resources and an optimal level of job demands, but they should also offer opportunities for employee job crafting.
Tims, Maria, Arnold B. Bakker, and Daantje Derks. “The impact of job crafting on job demands, job resources, and well-being.” Journal of occupational health psychology 18.2 (2013): 230.
Harvard Meta-Analysis: Job Crafting is Associated Positively with Work Engagement, but Interventions…
Harvard’s Frederick and VanderWeele conducted a meta-analysis on job crafting. A pre-print of the study is available on a limited basis. The researchers searched for studies of various outcomes, but only found enough studies of sufficient quality to examine work engagement as an outcome.
Their analysis showed that job crafting is positively associated with work engagement, but they weren’t able to say the same thing about interventions, specifically.
The studies of interventions, rather than just job crafting behaviors, that we did identify found no effect of the intervention (Van den Heuvel et al., 2015; Van Wingerden et al., 2015).
Presumably, they mean “no effect” on work engagement. Frederick and VanderWheele acknowledge that the intervention studies may not have had sufficiently large subject pools to demonstrate such an effect. Take note, however:
- The authors don’t mention Van Wingerden’s 2016 and 2017 studies (above) — perhaps they were published after the meta-analysis was conducted — that did demonstrate increased improvements in work engagement.
- The analysis didn’t include Tims et al’s “Impact of Job Crafting…” stealth intervention from 2012 (above), understandably since the authors didn’t describe it as an intervention. But it was an intervention and it did lead to greater work engagement.
If you’ve paid close attention, you may notice a few red flags about these studies: small populations (n), apparently homogenous demographics, limited number of studies, and a concentrated group of researchers. In a future post, I’ll offer my assessment of these studies — strictly from my perspective as an American employee-wellbeing practitioner — and (spoiler alert!) I’ll share why job crafting is, by far, the most exciting thing to happen to employee wellbeing in a long time.