How do we measure human performance, and what does it mean for the workplace?

July 11, 2017

How does your organization measure health and human performance? Well, the answer might vary depending on who you ask.

The Health Metrics Landscape

If you direct this question to someone within facilities or real estate, they will point to how their buildings are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified. Several credits for LEED include strategies that improve indoor air quality and access to natural light and views. Facilities might also be pursuing new health-related certifications like the WELL Building Standard or Fitwel. These new certifications identify specific ways the built environment can better support health through building location, outdoor spaces, staircases, the design of the indoor environment and food provisioning.

If you ask someone engaged in health promotion or occupational health, they might tell you about the organization’s participation in the C. Everett Koop Award or the Corporate Health Achievement Award. These awards measure the robustness of an organization’s health programs, i.e., how they are led and the health outcomes are achieved.

And then there are those metrics that human resources cares about when it comes to organizational health, like the engagement and happiness of employees that are addressed in surveys from the Society for Human Resources Management or Fortune’s “best companies to work for” that look at respect, pride and factors like, “Do you have a friend at work?”

The Health and Human Performance Index (HaPI)

All these measurement tools are excellent, but they tend to measure health and well-being in silos, and the data is connected. Additionally, it can sometimes be difficult to prioritize which metric is most important to focus on organization-wide. 

Interestingly, there are many new tools and methods that are beginning to look more comprehensively to evaluate organizational well-being. One of these is the Health and Human Performance Index developed by Center for Health and the Global Environment within Harvard’s School of Public Health. This tool combines elements of engagement, health, performance, culture and the physical work environment.

This index was developed in 2012 by Harvard in partnership with Johnson & Johnson is being championed by Dr. Eileen McNeely, Co-Director of Harvard’s Sustainability and Health Initiative for a Net Positive Enterprise (SHINE) at the School of Public Health and the index’s principal investigator. EYP is working with Harvard to integrate elements of the built environment into the HaPI tool. Specifically, the tool evaluates:

  • Well-Being: Provides both affective and evaluative aspects of well-being. Subjective well-being has been associated with overall health and performance.
  • Productivity: Measures the number of employee healthy days and a subjective report of work performance.
  • Engagement: Captures feelings at work (vigor, dedication and absorption) that have been previously associated with job resources, health and work performance.
  • Culture: Captures the availability of work resources (i.e., supervisor and coworker support, participatory decision making and challenges) that have been previously associated with health and performance.
  • Built Environment: Captures the quality of space (type of workspace, thermal comfort, air quality) and access to healthy amenities or opportunities (adjustable desks, fitness centers, shower facilities, healthy food options, views to outdoors and the ability to work at home).

The intent of this tool is to provide the business community with a universal benchmark, transferable across industrial sectors and global businesses, for communicating how the business impacts employee development and wellbeing. EYP is excited to be part of this tool’s development, to help us and our clients prioritize what is most important when it comes to improving health outcomes.

What have we learned so far?

EYP piloted the HaPI index with staff across all offices, and it is helping us better understand our work and our well-being. Here are five high-level findings we found illuminating, and the actions we are taking as a result.

  • Exercise is connected to office location. Our employee data shows a correlation between the amount of exercise employees are getting and office location. Employees assigned to an office with a shorter commute, in an urban vs. suburban location, access to public transportation, access to a park and views to the outdoors were more likely to exercise more.
  • Lack of sleep is connected to commute and workload. Lack of sleep was attributed to heavy workload, increased stress and longer commute time. Interestingly, the demographic of employees who sleep the least (and reported being the most stressed) are women, particularly those under 45. This falls in line with nationally reported data.
  • Stress impacts performance more than physical health issues. Overall, employees claimed mental health issues (stress and/or anxiety) were more impactful to presenteeism and absenteeism than physical health issues. This number went up for women and younger staff. There are many reasons employees might feel anxious like lack of sleep, lack of exercise, a heavy workload, or feeling a “lack of control” as to how, when, or where they get their work done.
  • Culture greatly impacts performance at work. When Harvard tested questions about culture, the work environment, amenities provided and workplace flexibility and then compared them to job performance and life satisfaction, their analysis confirmed what we suspected. Culture has a stronger impact on our health outcomes than the other factors by a long shot. Organizational factors like trust, respect, fairness, vibrant atmosphere and authenticity were correlated with job productivity and life satisfaction more than anything else. Though not as highly rated as culture, there were some physical workplace elements that more strongly correlate with job and life satisfaction than others. These include: a place to lie down at the office, a place to meditate, bike storage and showers.
  • “Job control” is the most influential factor when it comes to job engagement. Factors like autonomy in decision making, learning new things, using creativity, using individual skills and abilities and “having a say in what happens with your job” impacts employee engagement more than other factors.

What actions are we taking based on what we learned?

EYP is now sharing these results with each office and engaging in a conversation about our culture, operations and the physical environment in our offices. We are using Fitwel and other tools to develop specific firm-wide and office-specific strategies to help improve our employee productivity, job and life satisfaction. We also see this research as important to helping us to shape our thinking when it comes to workplace strategy and how we support our clients. We are using it to:

  • Develop location criteria and prioritize amenities and features that encourage movement for building occupants
  • Dig deeper into how space can help reduce stress and positively impact mental health for different population groups in our buildings
  • Integrate cultural factors more robustly into workplace development process, and determine ways the workplace can facilitate a “desired” culture
  • Further develop “workplace flexibility” strategies and policies to enable more job control and sleep for workers (particularly younger women who are typically juggling life and work responsibilities)

Why is EYP doing this?

Why are we engaging in this research? Three big reasons.

First, we believe that in order to recommend cutting-edge research tools and methods to our clients, we need to test them on ourselves first. That way, we understand the benefits of using them and the level of effort they require. We are using our offices as living labs for testing new tools like HaPI.

Second, the HaPI index is helping us to tweak and update our own workplaces to better support our work. We know a lot about workplace strategy but don’t have it all figured out, and tools like this one have helped us to prioritize and evolve our operations, office designs, HR policies, and even some of the technologies we use. What we learn about ourselves can be useful for our clients, too. 

Finally, we want to demonstrate the benefit that using tools that measure human performance might have for your organization.  If you or your team is interested in engaging in workplace health research or understanding the benefits of a healthy workplace to your organization, please reach out to Leigh Stringer.