You start a new job, you sign a contract, and then the division hands you the employee code of conduct. Now, in addition to the “no wearing a speedo” to the office, dress code clause, there is a section on health. Imagine, just as important as your job description or dress code, is your health. From the first day you join the company, you are offered resources, motivation, and encouragement to also maintain health during the duration of your employment? This is the idea behind Health Codes of Conduct.
Most workplace health programs achieve modest gains in health behavior. In a study with 147 employees we collected reactions to a novel approach to workplace wellness that suggests promising directions for future programs. Specifically, the idea is to engage and motivate employees to assume responsibility for their health through a Health Code of Conduct from the first day they are hired.
Results of this study found all employees offered modest to high support for the idea of Health Codes of Conduct, including overweight employees. Additionally, employees in the current study provided responses to various components of a health code of conduct. Our study found participants most likely to select Health Code of Conduct components that were easy to implement, but also low cost, such as asking employees to take an annual physical or work to achieve a certain BMI during employment.
Interestingly, while support was observed on average across various employee segments, there was one group that did not support the idea of a Health Code of Conduct. While overweight employees even provided support, it was obese employees (with a BMI over 30) that provided the lowest responses and reactions to the program. Why did overweight but not obese employees on board for Health Codes of Conduct? We believe that a mechanism like Health Codes of Conduct might serve as a precaution whereby overweight employees who sign these materials are more motivated to stay on track with a diet or other health plan, whereas obese employees may need extra motivation, such as fitness or nutrition education in addition to this Health Code of Conduct.
Using the specific features of Health Codes identified here, visionary companies can tailor their own company’s Health Code of Conduct with the appropriate monetary and non monetary incentives and disincentives to engage a diverse employee base. However, overweight employees appear to view such programs as an extra motivation and incentive to lose weight and get healthy, whereas obese employees see the program as a penalty.
Rebecca is a fellow at NYU Langone Medical Center in the Department of Population Health.