The Society of Actuaries released, in 2019, an exposure draft of PRI-2012 Mortality Tables which claims “participants in white-collar jobs generally live longer than those in blue-collar positions.”
An Occupational and Environmental Journal study also found “individuals with high physical work demands had a significantly lower working life expectancy than those with low physical work demands.”
The study concluded that at age 30, women with high physical work demands could see 3.1 fewer years working, 11 months more of sickness-related absence and 16 more months of unemployment. On the men’s side, the numbers were two years, 12 months and eight months, respectively.
With growing concerns regarding health in the manufacturing workplace, many companies began offering wellness programs to their employees as a way of supporting the health of workers and, also, the internal productivity standards that healthy workers support.
Worthen Industries, a manufacturing company in New Hampshire that has developed adhesives, coatings, extruded films and laminated products since 1866, already had a homegrown wellness program but wanted to broaden its scope.
Worthen approached a company named OMC Wellness Workdays, and now, 80% of Worthen’s employees and 75% of spouses participate in the program.
As a result, Worthen achieved 50% fewer people reporting experiencing depressive episodes, 26% feeling higher life satisfaction, 25% quitting smoking and a measured productivity savings of more than $118,000 per year.
OMC Wellness is a subsidiary of Wellness Workdays, a company that provides programs for hundreds of clients across various industries including, but not limited to, manufacturing and construction. It is predominantly based on the east coast and runs from Caribou, Maine to Miami, Florida.
CEO Debra Wein founded Wellness Workdays 18 years ago and Worthen has used its services for over 10 years.
When OMC Wellness introduced its program to Worthen, it felt it was imperative to ensure all management supported the program.
“We need to make sure everybody’s talking the same talk and walking the walk, so employees feel empowered to go and see the health coach,” Wein said. “They need to know their spot is secure, that their supervisors know their work is going to get done, and even more so because they’re a productive employee.”
An OMC Wellness team consists of one full-time health coach who works on-site at client locations and an account team behind the scenes that assists with technology, developing communication, programs and strategy. Depending on the size of a client, teams can range from one to seven.
One of the main goals for the wellness program team is pinpointing areas that require focus.
“Sometimes, people will just shove [issues] under the rug and think everybody feels like this,” Wein said. “Or [notice] something related to high cholesterol or high blood pressure and they don’t address it because they think it’s probably just not anything. We try to meet employees where they are, but we’re also trying to educate them about things [they] should know about.”
The safety risks workers encounter in the manufacturing industry are no secret. A Bureau of Labor Statistics release said private industry employers reported 2.7 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2020.
Ten occupations accounted for 38.3% of all private industry cases involving days away from work (DAFW) in 2020. Professions in this statistic include heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, maintenance and repair workers and laborers.
“Safety has become such an important topic. Everybody talks about it as the key factor for an organization’s success. We’re finding many of the organizations realize that you could tie wellness into the safety and really do incredible things for your employees.”
While physical health receives a great deal of attention, Wein emphasized the importance of monitoring and preserving mental and emotional health.
Wein said Worthen was instrumental from the beginning and wanted to support employees and their families through all facets of health: physical, nutrition, weight management, musculoskeletal injuries and mental health.
“That has been such an incredible pivot for us and for our health coaches,” Wein said. “The idea that you shouldn’t talk about stress, anxiety, depression, drug addiction, substance misuse; many organizations are welcoming the conversation. Because they want to help employees, not just penalize them if they’re suffering from any of these concerns.”
To promote mental and emotional well-being, Worthen creates charitable opportunities in which its employees can participate.
“Their focus was on helping the whole employee,” Wein said. “Not just saying they care about if you have low back pain or some sort of injury that’s going to prevent you from working. [They] really wanted to promote a healthy individual and family.”
Companies can be hesitant to bring in a wellness program due to the cost factor. However, Wein noted that ways exist for a company to implement a program without causing a massive cost for the organization.
In the era of the “Great Resignation,” a wellness program could be the extra piece that enhances recruitment and retention.
“It demonstrates to employees you genuinely care about their well-being,” Wein said. “Having a program that sits outside the HR department is often much more effective because you have this line of privacy that we found, in manufacturing and construction, in particular, they really like.
“Worthen employees are able to participate in health coaching and other programs on work time. Employees go to the health coaches and our resilience coaches not to just waste time, they come in for very productive conversations.”