A new study by UCLA researchers Natacha Emerson, Kelly Shedd and Robert Bilder found a strong correlation between workplace wellness programs and mental health.
After analysing data provided by 281 volunteers who took part in UCLA’s 12-week wellness program – the Bruin Health Improvement Program – the researchers found that mental health improved by nearly 19 percentile points at the end of the program, compared to the baseline levels measured at the beginning of the program.
“Many employers have started to question the value of such employee wellness plans, and have sought evidence that the financial investments in the plans can result in improvements in employee health and productivity that can be measured,” said Prabha Siddarth, a research statistician at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.
UCLA’s Bruin Health Improvement Program was launched in 2010 and is open to all staff and faculty. The program is modeled after cross-fit training and consists of three cardiovascular conditioning and strength training workouts per week.
“This was the first study of a workplace wellness program that showed a clear link between improvement in physical health and improvements in mental health, quality of life, stress, and energy,” said Dr. David Merrill, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA.
“Participants reported improved feelings of calm, social satisfaction, ability to cope with stress, and an overall sense of well-being. They also reported improvement in their energy levels and better productivity at work.”
As for the overall mental health score, participants who scored at the 50th
percentile on mental health (i.e. those who had “average” mental health), scored as high as the 69th
percentile after participating in the wellness program.
Should managers be trained to lead health initiatives?
Studies have already shown that companies staffed with happy and healthy employees experience less turnover, decreased absenteeism and greater productivity. And now more research confirms that workplace wellness programs can positively impact mental health, too.