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Cornell Study Explores the Effects of Health Insurance on Employees’ Job Characteristics

Workers with insurance reported higher performance

Cornell Center For Hospitality Research Although health insurance is a commonly offered benefit, there is a notable lack of research on whether providing insurance affects workers’ job behavior or performance. A new study from the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) examines the effects of having health insurance on four issues relating to workers’ job characteristics: job anxiety, tardiness, absenteeism, and overall task performance. The study found that workers who have health insurance reported higher task performance—meaning that they were significantly more effective in the activities that support their company’s overall mission than were the workers without health insurance. On the other hand, the presence or absence of health insurance had no noticeable effect on employees’ anxiety, tardiness, or absenteeism.

The report, “The Impact of Health Insurance on Employee Job Anxiety, Withdrawal Behaviors, and Task Performance,” by Sean A. Way, Bill Carroll, Alex M. Susskind, and Joe C.Y. Leng, is available at no charge from the CHR at http://www.hotelschool.cornell.edu/research/chr/pubs/reports/2011.html. Way is an assistant professor at theCornell School of Hotel Administration, where Carroll is a senior lecturer and Susskind is an associate professor. Leng is a degree candidate in the Sloan Program at Cornell. 

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“The question of whether health insurance benefits contribute to employees’ job-related performance and behavior has been largely lost in the debate on health insurance,” noted Way. “We wanted to take a scientific look at whether having health insurance, or not having coverage, made a noticeable difference in employees’ performance. We also took a particular look at one element of health insurance coverage, and that was coverage for mental illness. With regard to that coverage, we found a puzzling result with regard to tardiness.” 

The research group conducted two related studies, both of which examined healthcare and senior-services customer-contact employees who had worked for at least six months at one of sixteen facilities operated by Massachusetts-based Berkshire Healthcare. In Study A, the researchers found that health insurance coverage had no significant impact on individual employees’ job anxiety, absenteeism, or tardiness. However, health insurance coverage did have a significant, positive impact on individual employees’ task performance.

In Study B the researchers compared the impact of health insurance that included mental illness coverage and health insurance that did not include mental illness coverage on those same employee performance factors. Study B found that individual employees with health insurance that included mental illness coverage had significantly higher company-documented tardiness for the six-month period preceding the study than those with health insurance that did not include mental illness coverage. The researchers are continuing their study to compare later time periods with the six months in this study.

About The Center for Hospitality Research
A unit of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, The Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) sponsors research designed to improve practices in the hospitality industry. Under the lead of the center's 79 corporate affiliates, experienced scholars work closely with business executives to discover new insights into strategic, managerial and operating practices. The center also publishes the award-winning hospitality journal, the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly. To learn more about the center and its projects, visit www.chr.cornell.edu.

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