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On-Demand Video: Health in the American Workplace: Are We Doing Enough?

Event held July 11, 2016
For immediate release

In the latest in a series of live webcasts by The Forum at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a panel of experts discussed health concerns in American workplaces, focusing on a new poll by the school, NPR and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The panelists explored key insights derived from the poll, which found that 16 percent of respondents said their jobs have a bad effect on their health. Stress levels, weight, food habits and sleep all were reported as impacted. About one in four workers rated their workplace as only fair or poor in providing a healthy work environment. "These are all fixable problems," one panelist observed. Ideas advanced at The Forum included providing employees access to exercise and healthy food, offering paid sick and vacation time (and encouraging workers to take such time), establishing integrated evidence-based worker safety programs, and addressing perceived stigma associated with mental healthcare needs. Employers, in short, should establish a “culture of health.”

Below are highlights of the conversation for media use.

This Forum was presented in collaboration with The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and NPR.


John Quelch, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School, and Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health 

Marjorie Paloma, Director at The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 

Glorian Sorensen, Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Principal Investigator, Center for Work, Health and Wellbeing, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Robert Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Kennedy School 


Joe Neel, Deputy Senior Supervising Editor and a Correspondent on the Science Desk, NPR


The new poll of workers finds that many think their work life has a negative effect on their health. Stress is a chief complaint.

Health issues also include unsafe environments, malfunctioning equipment, poor food choices and lack of programs to support mental health, caregivers or exercise.

A "culture of health" fostered from the CEO level downward can address most of these problems by reducing stress-creating schedules and job ambiguities, raising staff levels and offering workers healthier food and exercise options, while combating the stigma that can be attached to seeking mental health care and other support efforts.

Employers' health achievements can be limited if the community environment involves violence, pollution, poor housing or other health hazards. Partnering with local groups like the YMCA can create inexpensive options.

Financial incentives don't work if self-care is not a part of the workplace culture. But companies that invest in their workers' health do show measurable economic gain.

To watch the full one-hour Forum, visit

Contact: Christina Roache,  tel. 617-432-7094
Click the links below to watch clips from the event.
Poll findings: Health in the American Workplace Highlight
Poll findings
Blendon: "The important thing is the poll was aimed at giving voice to working people...One in four people think they're in a work environment that isn't healthy...These are all fixable problems."
Mental health in the workplace: Health in the American Workplace Highlight
Mental health in the workplace
Quelch: "There are numerous problems related to workplace conditions...It's very easy to get sidetracked into putting resources into general mental health programs or general stress reduction programs, all of which are valuable and helpful. But let us not take our eye off of the reality of the 5% or 6% of the population who do have a very serious be sure that they have a lot of attention paid to them."
Stressed Transit Workers: Health in the American Workplace Highlight
Stressed transit workers
Sorensen: "Let me give just a little example to illustrate some of these issues...Getting messages from above that this [reducing stress] is a high priority, that it links into the mission of the organization as a whole, and then having it actually come into place with some of the policies and practices that happen within the work environment."
Workplace safety hazards: Health in the American Workplace Highlight
Workplace safety hazards  
Sorensen: "Our findings have also shown that work really matters for health outcomes...In 2014 there were over 4,800 occupational fatalities, over three million work-related injuries and accidents on the job, and that these took a toll in terms of costs of over $50 billion a year."
In ordinary workplaces: Health in the American Workplace Highlight
In ordinary workplaces
Paloma: "Our research has shown that some of the industries that are the unhealthiest are actually retail, manufacturing, public administration...[After health education initiatives, General Dynamic Bath and Iron Works, for example] will see those [health care costs to the worker] go down by 60%."
Solutions and incentives: Health in the American Workplace Highlight
Solutions and incentives  
Quelch: "According to the leaders of J&J, by putting the interests of the shareholders last and the interests of the consumers and employees and communities ahead of those of the shareholders, the shareholders actually end up being better off...[Regarding] motivating people on price [through, for example, lower premiums if they participate in health programs]'s just superficial behavioral change."
Investing in communities: Health in the American Workplace Highlight
Investing in communities
Paloma: "What we know about incentives is that sometimes they work and sometimes they don't work...We have got to be investing in the communities and meeting the health needs of the communities that we live in."

Integrating safety
Sorensen: "So in construction sites, for example, we have found that there's a regular planning process that construction sites use on a day-to-day basis that kind of plans the work of the day. Well, one way of sort of building in the safety component is to actually incorporate that into those existing strategies...Once we focus on research and try to look at the impact of work on health, how do we then translate that to policy and really engage policymakers in some of those issues?"

A culture of health: Health in the American Workplace Highlight
A culture of health
Paloma: "At the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we are focused on building a culture of health...Health shapes work and work shapes health."
Expert recommendations: Health in the American Workplace Highlight
Expert recommendations
Each expert offered policy recommendations at the end of the show.
Through in-person events paired with state-of-the-art interactive webcasting, The Forum at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health convenes the best-informed and most influential scientists, policymakers, and practitioners to address worldwide health problems that require immediate decisions and practical solutions.


Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators, and students, we work together to take innovative ideas from the laboratory to people's lives-not only making scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change individual behaviors, public policies, and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 faculty members at the Harvard Chan School teach 1,000-plus full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the School is recognized as America's oldest professional training program in public health.
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