workplace culture

Workplace culture affects employee health

Fact: Workplace culture affects your employee health

In Australia cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading single cause of death, with an enormous 18,590 Australian lives lost to CVD in 2017, correlating to a death every 28 minutes (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018).

It is estimated 90% of cases of CVD can be preventable through lifestyle changes (McGillJr et el. 2008), yet we still struggle to battle this disease. To prevent CVD, we need to monitor our lifestyle risk factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise, or being overweight. Other contributing factors are high cholesterol, or high blood pressure (National Heart Foundation 2017).

Whilst high blood pressure is the largest clinical attributable risk factor for CVD, in 2017, more Australians nominated stress, and alcohol consumption, as key risk factors in place of high blood pressure (National Heart Foundation 2017). Within the same year, close to three-quarters of Australians aged between 30 to 65 years, reported being told by a doctor they have at least one risk factor for CVD (National Heart Foundation 2017).

How workplace culture can spur on CVD

recent study by Gallup, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health – surveyed over 412,000 full-time workers between 2010 and 2012, the findings suggest that workplace supervisors could be part of the solution to this deadly and costly problem for businesses (Alterman et al. 2019).

Several other studies have established links between workplace stress and CVD risk factors. A reoccurring theme is that trust is a principal portion of social capital, predominantly in the workplace. Gallup, in consideration of this, also chose to examine the associations between trust at work and seven CVD risk factors: smoking, obesity, low physical activity, poor diet, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure (Alterman et al. 2019).

Gallup establishes that trust was connected with increased adjusted odds of having many of the seven CVD factors. Among those workers whose supervisor created a mistrustful environment, the odds ratios were the greatest, more than 20% for having four or more of the seven risk factors (Alterman et al. 2019).

Key health findings:
  • Workers who do not work in an open, trusting environment had greater odds of having high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
  • Workers in mistrustful environments also were more likely to be current smokers, have a poor diet and be obese.
  • Women who work in mistrustful environments had greater odds of low physical activity.
  • Odds ratios for having four or more risk factors were elevated in mistrustful environments.


Understanding the effects a negative work culture can have on employee health is important when assessing business success. Negative work environments, predominantly mistrustful ones, as identified in the Gallup study, may contribute to employees developing greater odds of CVD risk factors.

How to improve your culture and lower the risks

Supervisor behaviour can play an essential part in improving the health of the people they manage. Therefore, workplace intervention programs for CVD and other lifestyle health conditions should be considered when addressing this side of workplace social capital.

We recommend also reading our How to create a happier workplace blog post for further ideas and information.



  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, Causes of Death 2017, ABS cat. no. 3303.0, September. Available from:
  2. McGillJr, H, McMahan, A and Gidding, S 2008, ‘Preventing Heart Disease in the 21st Century’, Circulation Vol 117, N.09. Available from:
  3. National Heart Foundation, 2017. HeartWatch Survey, customised data, April 2018. Available from:
  4. Alterman, T, Tsai, R, Ju, J and Kelly, K 2019, ‘Trust in the Work Environment and Cardiovascular Disease Risk: Findings from the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Vol 16, No.2. Available from: