Many of us are in the business, directly or indirectly, of employee health and well-being. From a purely economic standpoint, employee health and well-being is a significant cost driver in any business. In the medico-legal world we are often at the intersection of disease status/health and employment. Historically, businesses have analyzed health and injury claims made to assess employee health, which was then used as a predictor of worker productivity.
Claims made is an easy but de facto method of measuring employee health. In addition, claims made do not capture other stressors that may impact productivity such as financial problems, family strife, etc. Claims made also fail to capture disease status/health that could result in claims made but are, for myriad reasons, not. For example, an employee with a chronic health condition may be on her spouses insurance and hence have claims that would otherwise be made but instead go unreported. Also, an employer with poor or no insurance is likely to have a claims history that does not accurately reflect the health status of its employees and how this impacts productivity.
Recent research suggests that employee well-being is a more accurate and dynamic metric for predicting employee productivity. In a compelling article, “Comparing the Contributions of Well-Being and Disease Status to Employee Productivity,” Gandy et al. found that “physical health is not sufficient to represent the vicissitudes of productivity in the modern workplace, but that the more global measure of individual well-being has a more important role in explaining productivity variance among workers.” The report specifically concluded that individual well-being status was “more predictive [of on-the-job productivity] compared to other factors, including disease status.” The study reported that well-being status was more predictive than disease status even among those with a positive disease status (diabetes, in this case). In other words, a worker with diabetes but with a positive well-being score was likely to be more productive than a healthy worker with a lower well-being score.
Gandy et al.’s findings dovetail with the general attitude shifts that have swept across the business world which has caused businesses to view employees as dynamic parts of and integral to corporate success. As Gandy et al. note, “In the new globally competitive marketplace, human capital has become the competitive advantage that employers can no longer afford to take for granted.” This paradigm shift has been borne out in the marketplace. For example, “A large international survey by the World Economic Forum found that organizations viewed as actively promoting health and well-being were at least 2.5 times more likely to be rated a best performer and to encourage creativity and 4 times less likely to lose talent.” One reason for the survey’s salience is “because well-being is many times a cause of other valued outcomes, such as worker productivity and rewarding relationships.”
This disconnect between health and well-being frequently plagues worker’s compensation claims. Surely we have all been dogged by the employee whose behavior seems considerably more impaired than the objective physical findings suggest. Frequently we look to issues like symptom magnification, malingering, or secondary gain to explain this perplexing behavior. Perhaps, we should instead be asking targeted questions to get at the person’s overall well-being. If the root cause of the disconnect between behavior and objective physical findings can be identified, at a minimum the behavior will be less perplexing and it may offer the opportunity to solve an otherwise vexing claim.
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