February 17, 2016

Cornell Graduate Publishes Study on Employee Wellness

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Rebecca Robbins ’09, M.S. ’14, Ph.D. ’15, detailed the “10 percent solution” — an attempt to promote employee wellness — in a recent study.

Robbins’ paper, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, aims “to understand manager reactions to … workplace wellness ideas, [as] very few workplace wellness programs systematically and thoughtfully engage managers in their efforts,” she said.

The “10 percent solution” argues that linking ten percent of annual managerial salary increases to wellness actions will result in meaningful changes from managers in the workplace, according to a University press release.

In the study, researchers asked managers to rate companies that involve and do not involve managers in employee wellness-promoting activities, according to Robbins.

“We found that people with positions in management really want to be involved,” Robbins said. “They actually … indicated that they would leave their current job for an employer that would engage them in a way like we suggested.”

Robbins said she was surprised by the degree that managers were eager to improve the workplace environment.

“We were really shocked that managers really actively want this,” Robbins said. “It really comes down, in our opinion, to the modern workplace — a place where all employees, managers included, want to be a part of something that [has] a higher calling.”

The study indicated that managers would shift their current jobs for the changes in employee-employer interactions.

“It was really interesting for us [to find] that managers want so badly to be involved in the process that they would actually leave their current jobs for an employer with … a vested interest in employee health,” she said.

The employee wellness programs can be improved not only with drastic transitions but also with simple changes, according to Robbins.

“These don’t have to be big massive changes, talking about an overhaul or a multi-million dollar initiative,” she said. “Just motivate your managers to start those conversations.”

According to Robbins, large-scale changes like creating nap rooms in the workplace were the least well-received or implemented methods for employee wellness promotion.

“The things that we found managers were most likely to implement right away were really easy, low hanging fruit, like talking to your employees, installing water coolers, providing healthy snacks, but one of the least supported intervention ideas was installing a nap room,” Robbins said. “Of course it’s counter to what you’re there to do. You’re there to be ‘on,’ not to sleep.”

Robbins added that understanding “how employers can be a source of healthy sleep habits for employees” is a good research direction for employee wellness promotion.

“Twenty minute power naps are the best thing to do from a performance perspective in the afternoon,” she said. “If we all just took a nap instead of drinking a coke, or having a coffee, it would actually be a much better performance boost.”

Robbins is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the NYU School of Medicine and Langone Medical Center.