June is National Employee Wellness Month, so it is only appropriate to support the festivities with some compelling new evidence that shows how all of us who work for a living can help make our workplaces healthier and better performing at the same time.
In a duo of workplace studies, one that involved more than 1,000 workers (1,174 to be exact) in a financial services organization, and a small-scale longitudinal study of 58 people in a call center, Elianne van Steenbergen and her colleagues at Utrecht University in the Netherlands were able to establish a connection between a flexible, supportive culture, physical health indicators (cholesterol and BMI levels), and performance on the job (absenteeism, sales volume and speed of response).
The bottom line? Well, it's all about the bottom line, according to the conclusion of the research team: Organizations that support employees across a combination of their work and family roles benefit from a healthier and higher-performing workforce.
What's especially important about this work is that it pushes well beyond the more common standard of self-report data to empirical higher ground. As Elianne explained in a Work & Family Researcher's Network webcast on June 5th, "Subjective experience in a supportive work/family interface at work predicted objective health and performance indicators one year later." Simply put, a year of treating people with respect and support for the many life roles they play resulted in an average four-pound weight loss, slightly (but significantly) lower cholesterol and BMI levels, 19 percent reduction in absenteeism, 6 percent increase in sales volume, and 9 percent increase in speed of response to customer calls.
You can read the details in the Journal of Organizational Behavior (Wiley), 30, Issue 5, pp.617-642, 2009. Is Managing the Work-Family Interface Worthwhile? Benefits for Employee Health and Performance, Elianne van Steenbergen and Naomi Ellemers. This was a special work-life issue of the Journal, entitled "Achieving Work-Family Balance: Theoretical and Empirical Advancements."
Would it surprise you to know that approximately 2,500 such articles containing work-life research are published each year in 70 scholarly journals around the world? No, I don't read them all either. I rely on the scholars who manage the Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Excellence in Work and Family Research to produce the "Kanter Top 10 Takeaways" -- actionable advice from the "Best of the Best" studies that a team of 35 reviewers around the globe deem to have the most relevance for human resources practitioners.
The Kanter Award will be celebrated next week at the inaugural conference of the Work and Family Researchers Network in New York City so be sure to visit the Kanter website to obtain your copy of the latest in work-life "proof points." WorldatWork's Alliance for Work-Life Progress is a major sponsor of this event that will draw close to 1,000 of the world's work-life researchers together in one place. Impressive, isn't it? Long before there were work-life practitioners, there was a thriving global community of researchers. Fortunately for the advancement of work-life progress, there still is.
 Van Steenbergen, E. & Ellemers, N.(2009). Is Managing the Work-Family Interface Worthwhile? Benefits for Employee Health and Performance. Journal of Organizational Behavior 30, 617-642. E.F.vanSteenbergen@uu.nl