Better Management Practices Directly Improve Cholesterol Scores, Sleep Quality, Stress Measures and Organizational Productivity

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After identifying employee needs in the workplace and enacting a year-long intervention to improve specified management practices, workers were measurably healthier and organizational productivity increased, according to a Wayne State University study of 383 Swedish Internal Revenue Service professionals.

Previous research has shown that 1) positive working environments improve employee satisfaction and performance; and that 2) positive working environments improve employee health/well-being. This is the first study to combine all these elements and measure the links among work stress/management styles and employee health, biologic stress markers, organizational productivity and absenteeism.

"Ours is the first prospective study combining the psychosocial, health and productivity perspectives. We provide evidence clarifying that some of the factors affecting employee health and well-being also affect organizational outcomes such as productivity and profits," said senior author, Bengt Arnetz, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., professor of occupational and environmental medicine in the Department of Family Medicine at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. "The benefits of a positive work climate are twofold. Lower stress levels at work offer both healthier employees and a more efficient organization."

The study published in the July 2005 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (vol. 47, no. 7) is titled "The Impact of a Prospective Survey-Based Workplace Intervention Program on Employee Health, Biologic Stress Markers, and Organizational Productivity."

A cohort of white-collar employees from Stockholm, Sweden, were divided into workgroups and asked to assess 11 work factors such as exhaustion, tempo, work climate, efficiency and leadership. Based on personal assessments, focused management activities were enacted to improve the work situation. Following a one-year intervention, the same employees expectedly reported improved job satisfaction, but more interestingly, they also reported the following psychophysiological outcomes.

Study subjects:

  • Improved sleep quality and self-rated health.

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  • Decreased cholesterol by four percent, thereby lowering cardiovascular disease risk.

  • Decreased triglycerides by 16 percent, again decreasing risk for heart disease.

  • Increased testosterone, an important restorative hormone that facilitates lower levels of stress and good sleep quality.

  • Increased cortisol, thereby avoiding low-levels of cortisol that are characteristic of chronic fatigue, burnout and exhaustion.

  • Had lower absenteeism and improved productivity.

Dr. Arnetz believes other studies typically try to reduce workplace stress by using a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, they may universally apply principles to empower employees. This study, on the other hand, studied the management characteristics of various workgroups and gave each of them tailored interventions to address their own satisfaction levels. Each group came back with positive outcomes.

With more than 1,000 medical students, WSU is among the nation's largest medical schools. Together with its clinical partner the Detroit Medical Center, the school is a leader in patient care and medical research in a number of areas, including cancer, genetics, the neurosciences and women's and children's health.

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