Measuring Workplace Productivity

A look at the types of measurement tools HR leaders should consider when repositioning wellness as an important aspect of workplace productivity.

This article accompanies Bending the Trend

Saturday, October 16, 2010
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Employers spend an estimated $13,000 per employee per year in total direct and indirect (productivity-related) healthcare costs, motivating many organizations to address health and productivity management as an integral part of business strategy.

The growing focus on reducing healthcare expenditures, retaining valuable employees and optimizing employee productivity is compelling employers to quantify the effects of productivity impairment on the bottom line and the return on investment of population health-management initiatives.

How to Effectively Measure Workplace Productivity:

1. Determine how workplace productivity data will be used.

Workforce characteristics differ significantly among organizations; therefore, many employers opt to directly assess their employee population to gather the most relevant data. To make an informed decision about appropriate measurement tools and approaches, it is essential for an employer to understand the purpose of the impairment measurement and how the resulting data will be used by management.

2. Get to know the various measurement tools available.

When evaluating potential measurement tools, employers should be aware of the unique characteristics of each tool. For example, the Work Productivity and Activity Impairment Questionnaire (WPAI) estimates the percent of time missed due to a health problem, the percent of impairment while working due to a health problem and the overall percent of work impairment.

The Work Limitations Questionnaire (WLQ) focuses on four aspects of performance: time management, physical demands, mental/interpersonal demands and output demands.

Depending on the measurement purpose, both are effective tools. 

3. Determine the most relevant measurement approach.

Employers also must evaluate potential approaches to measuring productivity. The culture of health at an organization should be a consideration during the selection process.

Measurement approaches can be separated into three interrelated categories: 1) descriptive measurement, 2) comparative measurement and 3) evaluative measurement. It is through a combination of these functions that employers can determine the impairment situation, develop appropriate programs features and evaluate the effect of targeted solutions.

The descriptive measurement approach primarily focuses on determining the degree to which the health status of the workforce can compromise the productivity of the organization. Typically, the data gathered by this approach can influence whether to go forward with employee health-and-wellness programs and can justify the application of resources to address impairment problems.

The comparative measurement approach goes beyond simple quantification. This approach determines the primary health-risk and chronic-condition drivers of impaired productivity. Comparative data can aid in prioritizing which impairment problems to target and can inform the allocation of resources to address prioritized problems.

The evaluative measurement approach assesses change over time, and is relevant particularly for gauging the impact of existing health-and-productivity-management programs. To be viewed as an important part of the overall business strategy, health-and-productivity programs must demonstrate that as health status improves, so does productivity.

Evaluative comparisons should spotlight risk-modification and chronic-condition management achievements, and the degree to which these can affect productivity and job performance.

Although monetizing productivity impairment is not always relevant, it is a common and challenging requirement. Some instruments lend themselves to monetization better than others. The three primary approaches are salary-conversion methods, introspective methods and firm-level methods.

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These approaches expense the percentage of impairment by annualized salaries to monetize productivity impairment.


4. Don't be data rich and interpretation poor.

Organizations are often data rich but interpretation poor. It is important to evaluate measurement findings against other data sources to accurately assess the impairment situation. Benchmarks can be used to interpret change over time from data coming from within an organization.

Normative data typically are based on a data distribution outside a given organization and can allow for industry or competitor comparisons.

When data are presented clearly and concisely, employers can understand the relationship among a variety of issues, such as health status, absenteeism and job performance.

Organizations frequently use dashboard formats for reporting measurement data. Effective dashboards address three functions: 1) integrate data from multiple sources, 2) filter data and 3) apply mathematical procedures automatically to transform complex data into a rapid review format.

Productivity-impairment measurement enables employers to assess productivity impairment and to allocate resources appropriately to address impairment issues. Cost-effectiveness and ease of administration allow these tools to be integrated easily into continuing evaluations of health and productivity impairment in the workplace.

Steven M. Schwartz is research director at HealthMedia, Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company and part of the wellness and prevention business. Schwartz received his B.A. in general psychology from Wayne State University, an M.A. in experimental psychology from the College of William and Mary, and a Ph.D. in clinical/health psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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