Oct 12, 2021
For American Workers Under 40, Personal Health is Key to Productivity

As American businesses navigate new ways of working amid the pandemic, a recent survey of executives and employees from across six of the biggest industries suggests that a focus on individual health can help strengthen business performance.

This is especially true for the largest share of today’s workforce, Millennials (ages 25–40) and Generation Zers (ages 18–24). In this combined group of American workers under 40, one out of three believe their personal health is a defining factor of their productivity.

The survey of 1,800 full-time employees (600 executives and 1,200 employees), conducted in January 2021 by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) for Cigna, reveals how executives and employees feel about the relationship between health, productivity and business growth, and the results can help guide workforce planning as the country moves forward.

(Data Source: Pew Research)

Defining Productivity

“Productivity” is a term that has different meanings to different people, so it’s notable that “being healthy” was cited as a defining factor of a productive workforce. For Millennial and Generation Z workers, productivity means more than just completing tasks and saving time and money; it is also about having a healthy body and mind.

The survey found that Millennial and Generation Z respondents chose “feeling motivated” and “being healthy” among the top defining factors for productivity, above “saving the company money” and just below “getting tasks completed” and “spending time efficiently.”


This focus on mental and physical health highlights the business imperative of creating a culture of well-being in the workplace. The survey found that 96% of Generation Z and Millennial employees agree that a healthy, productive workforce is essential to business recovery.

It is important that employers continue to invest in workforce health for all employees and focus on building an organizational culture designed to support individuals in maintaining and enhancing their personal well-being.


Being Healthy Includes Taking Care of the Mind

Investment in workforce health should include mental health services and support to help address employee fatigue, burnout and stress. Combined, these were identified in the EIU survey as the top barriers to business growth. This finding is not surprising given the uncertainty of the pandemic and the ongoing impacts to work and life. Having to adapt to new working conditions, managing work and caregiving, and witnessing the cultural fissures that have occurred during this time have taken a toll on productivity. A separate survey found that 26% of adults say pandemic-related stress makes them less productive at work, and 15% say it makes them less engaged in their job.

For Millennial and Generation Z employees specifically, another survey indicates that about a third of this group has taken time off of work because of stress and anxiety, and about 40% of those who were still on the job reported being “stressed all of the time.” In addition, almost 40% feel their employers are not adequately supporting their mental well-being.


As businesses continue to adopt new working models that blur the lines between work and home, it is critical for employers to address both the physical and mental health needs of their employees. It is also important to foster a good work–life balance, which can help improve employee mental health. For Millennial and Generation Z respondents of the EIU survey, “work-life balance” is a key defining factor of a healthy workforce. Employers who can meet these particular needs will be more likely to attract and retain top talent. 


Supporting Mental Health is more than Providing Benefits; It is also Encouraging and Incentivizing Wellness

While covered mental health care and services are effective in addressing worker stress and anxiety, Millennials and Generation Zers have a more holistic view of health and are likely to want employers to share that view. To them, fitness and nutrition are essential parts of health care. So it is no surprise that this employee group ranked “health and wellness benefits/programs” as the most critical benefit after medical insurance to support their work productivity. Millennials in particular have the highest rates of participation in wellness programs.


Employer-Driven Health Programs Increase Employee Engagement and Productivity

Of the executives surveyed by the EIU, nearly all (90%) believe that investing in health and wellness programs has a direct impact on increased employee productivity and business performance.

The evidence agrees with them. Employees receiving health and wellness benefits at work were 11% more engaged. And engaged employees were 30% less likely to miss work because of poor health, with 70% fewer work days missed over the course of a year. Further, when employees believe their employer cares about their health and well-being, they are 38% more engaged in their work. So maintaining employees’ whole-person health can lead to a more present and productive workforce.

As the country continues to manage the complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers play a critical role in keeping business performance, and economic recovery, on track by continuing to support the health and well-being of all employees.

A Healthy Workforce is an Employer Imperative

Research finds employers are the key to linking employee health and productivity, business success, and overall economic vitality.

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