Workplace Health Research Network:  A Multi-site Collaboration for Promoting Healthy Work

UIC was one of six founding academic institutions to comprise the first Workplace Health Research Network, which was established by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as a thematic network of the Prevention Research Center (PRC) program. The goal of this network was to bring together research experts in fields related to workplace health and to develop a research agenda that promotes healthy work.

At our first network meeting in North Carolina, the network researchers identified three focus areas in which an applied research agenda could raise awareness of health issues and create pathways for improving workplace health:

  • Employee-focus: increase our understanding of the factors that influence employee health.
  • Employer-focus / Industry-focus: identify interventions that could promote health at work.
  • Community-focus: translate research into sustainable worksite-based programs in communities.

One overarching theme that emerged at the meeting was the focus on a growing segment of the US workforce—employees characterized by low-wages, non-traditional job contracts, insecure or non-stable work status, or disparities regarding access to or use of workplace benefits or programs.

Dr. Naoko Muramatsu led the employee-focused group and identified two multi-site projects that encouraged collaboration through the production of tangible research outputs in this domain.  One of these projects was a literature review designed to understand the need for more research around low-wage workers’ access to and use of worksite health promotion programs.  At least one researcher from each of the six WHRN sites contributed to the concept, coding, interpretation, conclusions, and writing of the manuscript.

Major findings from the scoping review led by Dr. Emily Stiehl:

  • Low-wage workers tend to have greater health needs than workers with higher wages. They also tend to have less access to health promotion programs or to use them less when they do have access.
  • Few studies in the United States have examined interventions or collected empirical data around worksite health promotion programs for adult low-wage workers.
  • Some programs have tried to align the health of employees and customers, developing health promotion programs that improve customer health by educating employees about health.  Such programs could improve the health of both groups.
  • Addressing low-wage worker health in the workplace could provide a bigger “bang for the buck” than comparable programs for higher wage workers.
  • More research is needed to understand how to design and deliver workplace health promotion programs that are effective for low-wage workers.

This multi-site collaboration has generated a shared direction for future work focused on how to improve the health of all workers, especially those who may not have been considered when creating programs that were uniformly administered in the past. We look forward to future collaborations with researchers at these sites.

 

About the image. Photo provided by The University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health showing attendees at the UNC launch of the Workplace Health Research Network: (l-r) Mr. Jason Lang, Dr. Sherry Baron, Ms. Kristen Hammerback, Ms. Jessica Madrigal, Dr. Enid Chung Roemer, Ms. Meg Pomerantz, Dr. Isabel Cuervo, Dr. Jean Abraham, Dr. Naoko Muramatsu, Dr. Laura Linnan, Dr. Emily Stiehl, Dr. Ron Goetzel, Dr. Lisa Brosseau and Dr. Jeff Harris.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

The Illinois PRC WHRN team consists of Naoko Muramatsu, Lisa Brosseau, Emily Stiehl, and Linda Forst. They will continue examining workplace health through the UIC Center for Healthy Work.