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Employee Health Codes of Conduct: What Would They Look Like and Who Would Accept Them?

Robbins, Rebecca and Brian Wansink (2015). Employee Health Codes of Conduct: What Would They Look Like and Who Would Accept Them? International Journal of Workplace Health Management, 8(33).

Workplace wellness programs have been suggested as a way to lower obesity prevalence among working adults. However, many of these programs have failed in encouraging employees to take responsibility for their health. Employees must be fully engaged and committed to the initiatives for the program to see success. When an individual is hired, they must sign an employee code of conduct that outlines workplace policies and expectations. What if employee health was included on those contracts? This study examined how parallel motivations that a code of conduct elicits from employees might map onto actions and behaviors employees take with regard to their health.

First, a sample of human resource professionals were interviewed on their salient beliefs and reactions to Health Codes of Conduct. Then, closed-ended survey questions were designed based on the most common reactions and responses from the interviews.  The survey was then completed by 149 employees. Qualitative data were analyzed using the constant comparative method and quantitative data were analyzed using SPSS in which ANOVA and OLS procedures were done.

All employees were moderately to strongly supportive of Health Codes of Conduct. Positive reactions to the Health Codes of Conduct often related to participants believing that this policy would increase employee productivity and engagement and reduce employee sick days. The most common negative response to the policy expressed that it would be challenging to measure. Attitudes towards Healthy Codes of Conduct were not significantly different between normal weight and overweight individuals, but obese participants were significantly more likely to oppose the policy than normal weight individuals.

The highest ratings of support came from health standards on staying home when sick, getting an annual physical examination, and banning smoking. The most supported rewards for complying with the code of conduct were discounts on health insurance plans, lower co-payments, and discounts on medical examinations. Supported disincentives for failure to comply included higher cost insurance plans, higher co-payments, and requiring health risk assessment.  This study provides guidance on the Health Code of Conduct components likely to be well received among employees and encourages support for this unique approach to promoting wellbeing and positive health decisions at work.