Wellness programs in the workplace will have a positive impact on the health of their employees when compared to workplaces without them.

Medical Sciences (Anatomy, Physiology, Pharmacology etc.)
Topic: Wellness programs in the workplace will have a positive impact on the health of their employees when compared to workplaces without them.

Thesis: Wellness programs in the workplace will have a positive impact on the health of their employees when compared to workplaces without them.

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Communicating Health at Work: Organizational
Wellness Programs as Identity Bridges
Stephanie L. Dailey & Yaguang Zhu
To cite this article: Stephanie L. Dailey & Yaguang Zhu (2017) Communicating Health at Work:
Organizational Wellness Programs as Identity Bridges, Health Communication, 32:3, 261-268, DOI:
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10410236.2015.1120698
Published online: 24 May 2016.
Submit your article to this journal
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Communicating Health at Work: Organizational Wellness Programs as
Identity Bridges
Stephanie L. Daileya and Yaguang Zhub
Department of Communication Studies, Texas State University; b
Department of Communication Studies, University of Texas at Austin
With the growth in workplace health promotion (WHP) initiatives, organizations are asking employees to
enact their personal health identities at work. To understand this prominent yet poorly understood
phenomenon, we surveyed 204 employees at a company with a WHP program and found that
participation in the wellness program mediated personal health and organizational identities. Results
fill a gap in communication literature by demonstrating the effect of individual identity enactment on
organizational identification and contribute to recent research stressing the relationship between
identity and health behaviors. In addition, findings illuminate the role of situated activity in identity
negotiation, suggesting that certain activities in organizations, like wellness programs, serve as identity
bridges between personal and work-related identity targets.
Increasingly, community, social, and work organizations are
taking an active role in disseminating health information to
their members. More than half of all employers with 50 or
more employees now offer a wellness program (Mattke et al.,
2013), making corporate wellness a multi-billion-dollar
industry (Burke, 2014). With the growth of workplace health
promotion (WHP) initiatives, which may include physical
exercise programs, nutrition training, health information
screening and education, and occupational health services
(Farrell & Geist-Martin, 2005; Zoller, 2003), research has
studied the effects of WHP programs on a variety of outcomes.
For example, organizational health policies and programs
enhance physical activity (Proper et al., 2003), reduce
employee absences (Kuoppala, Lamminpää, & Husman,
2008), and increase organizational attraction (Dalsey &
Park, 2009).
Despite this growing trend and developing area of research,
scholars do not fully understand the identity implications of
integrating employees’ personal selves and well-being into
organizations. As work and home boundaries are becoming
physically, temporally, and psychologically blurred (Clark,
2000), businesses invite employees to reveal and communicate
their personal health identities at work. However, research has
yet to unpack the relationship between WHP, individual, and
organizational identities.
The current study fills this gap by investigating how individuals’
health identities are becoming bound up in work
organizations through the growing trend of WHP.
Specifically, we contend that WHP programs serve as a bridge
between personal health identities and organizational identities,
since wellness activities allow employees to communicate
their identification to health and work simultaneously. We
begin by reviewing the organizational identification literature
to provide a theoretical framework for the study.
Literature Review
A person’s identity is socially constructed from the different
meanings attached to that individual by him- or herself and
others (Ashforth & Mael, 1989). Both the social roles that an
individual assumes and the personal, idiosyncratic characteristics
of the person make up his or her identity. According to
social identity theory (Ashforth & Mael, 1989), these categories
are central components of people’s self-concepts. When
a person defines him- or herself in terms of a social category,
the person identifies with that social group, whether the group
is the person’s gender or employer. Although social identity
theory is rooted in industrial psychology, communication
scholars have recognized the relationship between social identity
theory and the communicative study of identification
(Scott, 2007).
Indeed, communication is central to identification, because
attachments develop through ongoing situated interactions,
and people express their belongingness to different collectives
(Scott, Corman, & Cheney, 1998). Research has demonstrated
that individuals continually negotiate their identities through
communication, situating organizational identification as
a dynamic, fluid process (e.g., Kuhn & Nelson, 2002).
Perceptions of organizational identification also influence
communicative behaviors, including decision making
(Cheney & Tompkins, 1987), cooperation and work-related
efforts (Bartel, 2001), and continued membership (Scott et al.,
1999). Because we assess and communicate our belongingness
to organizations through communication, identification varies
CONTACT Stephanie L. Dailey, PhD, Assistant Professor Dailey@txstate.edu Department of Communication Studies, Texas State University, 601 University
Drive, San Marcos, TX 78666.
2017, VOL. 32, NO. 3, 261–268
© 2016 Taylor & Francis
across social contexts. To understand the complexity of organizational
attachments in different situations, much of the
identification literature has focused on multiple, or nested,
organizational identities.
Multiple Organizational Identities
In their structurational model of identification, Scott et al.
(1998) conceptualized identities as structures that are “regionalized.”
Specifically, the authors suggested four relevant
identities or “targets” of attachment: individual, workgroup,
organizational, and occupational/professional (Scott et al.,
1998). In different contexts, identifications may overlap, or
there may be tension between identity targets. Thus, multiple
identities vary in the degree to which they are compatible or
in conflict.
In addition to the Scott et al. (1998) notion of identification
targets, Ashforth and Johnson (2001, p. 32) also theorized
about the varying “identity salience” of multiple identities,
positing that different levels and types identities are nested
within others. For example, the authors noted that lower
order identities, such as one’s job, workgroup, and department,
are embedded in higher order identities, like an
employee’s division and organization. Ashforth and Johnson
(2001) described how people rank the subjective importance
of nested identities, which helps individuals situate themselves
and others within the multiplicity of social identities.
Drawing on Scott and colleagues’ (1998) and Ashforth and
Johnson’s (2001) theoretical work, many empirical studies
have investigated the relationship between multiple or nested
identifications. Early work exploring multiple forms of identification
compared targets across geographically dispersed
employees, organizational levels, and tenure (e.g., Barker &
Tompkins, 1994). In addition to looking at the different
effects of various identifications, other research has examined
multiple identities during times of change. Kuhn and Nelson
(2002), for example, assessed the multiplicity and duality of
identity structures during a planned policy implementation.
Beyond looking at nested identities during transitions, studies
have also compared contract workers’ identification with their
employing organization and client organization (e.g., Gossett,
Most of these studies center on how team/group identifications
align with or contradict employees’ perceptions of organizational
or professional identification. Less research has
considered how employees bring their personal identities to
work. A handful of communication scholarship has investigated
the intersection of home and work identities, like working
mothers (e.g., Turner & Norwood, 2013) and female
breadwinners (Meisenbach, 2010). Furthermore, Meisenbach
and Kramer (2014) studied volunteers’ multiple identifications
with a church choir, demonstrating that participants
expressed a personal identification with music that was
embedded within their family identity. The authors showed
how people’s music identities were enacted through singing;
in other words, singing was a situated activity that shaped
identification. Also of note, Silva and Sias (2010) demonstrated
how participation in adult Sabbath School Classes
linked individuals’ identity to the Seventh Day Adventist
church. Although scant, these studies indicate the value of
researching the relationship between individual and organizational
identities, which play an important role in connecting
(or separating) people and organizations.
Understanding personal identities at work is increasingly
important as work organizations take on more family and
social roles (Kirby, 2006). As Clark (2000) explains in her
explanation of work/family border theory, home and work
have become more integrated, as physical, temporal, and
psychological borders have blended. Employers have taken
on familial roles by offering flexible work arrangements
(Cowan & Hoffman, 2007), family-leave policies and dependent-care
benefits (Kirby & Krone, 2002), and health programs
and linking spirituality and work (Kirby, 2006).
Despite the dissolution of clear boundaries between individuals
and organizations (Kirby, Golden, Medved, Jorgenson,
& Buzzanell, 2003), identification scholars have just begun to
understand how this home–work integration affects identities
at work. Pratt (2000, p. 485) suggested that “as more facets of
one’s identity (e.g., business, family, and religion) become
bound up in an organization, one’s identification becomes
deeper.” Specifically, scholars lack an understanding of how
personal health identities affect organizational identifications.
Thus, we explore how individuals’ health identities are
becoming bound up in work organizations through the growing
trend of workplace health promotion.
Connecting Individual and Organizational Identities
Through Workplace Health Promotion
Workplace health promotion (WHP) describes organizational
efforts to encourage mental and physical well-being
(Farrell & Geist-Martin, 2005; Kirby, 2006; Zoller, 2003).
WHP initiatives often include physical exercise programs,
nutrition training, health information screening and education,
and occupational health services (Farrell & GeistMartin,
2005; Zoller, 2003). Research investigating the
effects of employee WHP participation has demonstrated
several individual and organizational outcomes. For
employees, taking part in WHP programs has been shown
to boost physical activity (Conn, Hafdahl, Cooper, Brown,
& Lusk, 2009; Proper et al., 2003) and positively influence
employees’ dietary behavior (Maes et al., 2012). Employers
benefit from WHP initiatives because health programs
increase work productivity (Kuoppala et al., 2008), reduce
employee absences (Conn et al., 2009; Kuoppala et al.,
2008), and decrease turnover (DeJoy & Wilson, 2003).
In addition to these individual and organizational benefits,
we contend that WHP also serves as a bridge between personal
health identities and organizational identities. For the
purpose of this project, we conceptualize “personal health
identity” as a specific type of individual identity assumed by
people who define themselves in terms of their health. People
who perceive themselves as having a strong personal health
identity feel connected to their health and take pride in their
well-being as a unique personal concern. For example, a
woman may consider herself a “runner” (Posts, 2015) or a
man might define himself a “vegetarian” (Shapiro, 2014).
Following Ashforth and Johnson’s (2001, p. 32) theory
regarding the “identity salience” of different identities, we
suggest that a person’s health salience is an important personal
identity worth exploring.
Before the growth of WHP, employees kept their personal
health identities at home because, for the most part,
companies did not offer the opportunity for workers to
communicate or express their health identities at work.
WHP programs, however, ask employees to bring their
“runner,” “vegetarian,” and other health identities to the
office. For example, Otter Products, ZocDoc, and ZOZI, a
small San Francisco startup, arrange running clubs for
employees, and Chandler Chicco provides nutritional cooking
classes to its workers (Greatist, 2014). Through interaction
with others in wellness activities, WHP programs invite
employees to reveal and communicate their personal health
identities. As Harwood and Sparks (2003, p. 151) explained,
“Identifying as a runner, a healthy eater, or a gym rat and
seeing those as important elements of self-concept are likely
to lead to maintenance of those behaviors.” WHP programs
allow people with healthy self-concepts to enact their personal
identities at work.
Recent health communication research has demonstrated
the role of identity in predicting health beliefs and behavioral
intentions. In their experiment of antismoking advertisements,
Moran and Sussman (2014) found that when participants
read ads from groups with which they identified,
antismoking beliefs were more strongly endorsed.
Furthermore, the Stephens, Goins, and Dailey (2014) study
demonstrated that people’s identification with a message
source mediated the effect of social media on people’s health
knowledge, and Stephens et al. (2015) similarly discovered
that employees’ identification predicted health behavioral
intentions. However, these studies do not show the effect of
personal health identities on organizational identification.
Employees who express and communicate their personal
health identities by participating in WHP programs may
experience greater organizational identification, since identification
exists when individuals perceive a strong overlap
between how they define themselves and how they define
the organization (Dutton, Dukerich, & Harquail, 1994).
Similarly, person–organization fit research has shown that
identification occurs when an employee’s personal values fit
or align with an organization’s culture (Cable & DeRue,
2002). In the context of WHP, employees who define themselves
as healthy may be more identified to organizations that
also value employees’ health.
Beyond this psychological connection, however, we predict
that WHP activities may influence employees’ organizational
attachment because WHP participation enables the
social interaction requisite for identification. Organizational
identification is more than just a psychological process;
identification is a social process that is created and maintained
through communication (Scott et al., 1998).
Specifically, the Scott et al. (1998, p. 321) situated-action
view of identification highlights “the importance of social
contexts for identity formation … situations may be defined
largely by activities—and it is those activities that can then
be related to the attachment process.” Through this lens,
WHP participation may be a situated activity that boosts
identification because wellness program participation allows
workers to enact both their personal health identity and
their organizational identity as employees. Therefore, we
present the following hypothesis:
H1: WHP program participation mediates the relationship
between employees’ personal health identities and employees’
organizational identification.
Participants and Procedure
Participants in this study were employees from a pharmaceutical
and chemical corporation in a large northern city in
China. The company offered a free on-site fitness center for
midday workouts, and employees could participate in the
health program on a voluntary basis. Similar to the health
program at the first author’s United States-based institution,
workers in the study could choose to work for 30 minutes or
use their daily “wellness leave” to attend a health program
activity for 30 minutes. As an incentive for their participation
in the wellness program, the company offered employees the
opportunity to win a Fitbit activity and sleep tracking device.
To elicit employees’ participation, the researchers drafted
an e-mail to participants with details about the study and a
link to the online survey. A human resources representative
forwarded this email to 641 employees working at the
research center of the corporation’s main campus. Out of
these employees, 207 completed the online survey, a 32.2%
response rate. After dropping three responses due to nonrandom
missing data, the study resulted in a sample of 204
The sample was 51.7% male (n = 107) and ranged in age
from 24 to 46 years (M = 33.35, SD = 5.42). All participants
were Chinese citizens who read and spoke English. Among
respondents, 58.9% (n = 122) had bachelor’s degrees, 24.5%
(n = 50) had taken some college courses, 18.3% (n = 19) held a
master’s degree or had taken graduate courses, and 12.5%
(n = 13) had completed a PhD/MD.
All questionnaires were in English and measured variables on
Likert-type scales ranging from strongly disagree (1) to
strongly agree (7).
Personal Health Identity
Personal health identity was assessed through five items that
measured the salience of participants’ health concerns
(Blalock & DeVellis, 1998). These items represented the individual’s
connection to his or her health and included the
following items: “Keeping healthy is very important to me,”
“I don’t cut corners when my health is concerned,” “I try to
take care of my health,” “I am very health conscious,” and
“I care more about my health than most people care about
their health.” These five items had a M = 5.57, SD = 0.90, and
a Cronbach’s a = .81.
Organizational Identification
Organizational identification was operationalized using a sixitem
measure adapted from Mael and Ashforth’s (1992) organizational
identification scale, which has been used in prior
identification research (e.g., Kreiner & Ashforth, 2004). An
example item read, “When someone criticizes my organization,
it feels like a personal insult.” These items had a
M = 5.85, SD = 1.14, and a Cronbach’s a = .95.
Workplace Health Promotion Program Participation
To measure employees’ participation in the company’s WHP
program, the researchers created a three-item measure. Two
items asked participants how much they agreed with the
following statements: “I tend to participate in every workplace
health promotion program offered by the organization” and “I
hope to participate in workplace health promotion programs
offered by the organization.” Participants were also asked how
much they agreed with the statement “I participate in health
activities not offered by the organization” in order to capture
health participation outside of the organization (such as working
out at a local gym) instead of at work, and this item was
reverse coded.
We conducted exploratory factor analysis on the three items
using principal components analysis with Varimax rotation,
and the outcome showed that all items loaded onto one,
three-item factor. A following confirmatory factor analysis
illustrated that the model including the three items was a
good fit to the data: ?2 = 91.31, p < .001, CFI = .54,
TLI = .98, RMSEA = .28, AGFI = .66, and SRMR = .09). The
three items had M = 5.93, SD = 1.04, and Cronbach’s a = .89.
Control Variables
We controlled for age, gender, organizational tenure, and
educational level, but none was significantly related, directly
or indirectly, with organizational identification, so we
excluded them from the structural model tests.
Data Analysis Plan and Preliminary Analysis
Path analysis using structural equation modeling with maximum-likelihood
estimation was used to analyze the direct
and indirect influences of personal health identity and
employees’ participation in a workplace health promotion
program on their organizational identification. Prior to analysis,
descriptive and frequency analyses were performed to
ensure that the data were normal, which included inspecting
kurtosis, skewness, and histograms. The zero-order correlations
are presented in Table 1. Missing data were present in 12
of the 204 cases, and the variable means were imputed using
mean substation to retain all cases.
Testing for Mediation
Based on the recommendations of Hayes (2009), mediation
analyses were conducted using structural equation modeling
(SEM) and bootstrapping methods. According to Preacher
and Hayes (2008), this method applies resampling techniques
to estimate confidence intervals around the degree of the
indirect effects of the predictor variables on the outcomes.
Compared to the traditional causal steps approach and Sobel’s
test, bootstrapping methods are more powerful and valid
(Hayes, 2009; Preacher & Hayes, 2008).
Following the recommendations of good fit by Hu and
Bentler (1999), model fit was evaluated using the maximumlikelihood
chi-squared statistic, comparative fit index (CFI),
Tucker–Lewis index (TLI), root mean square error of approximation
(RMSEA), adjusted goodness of fit index (AGFI), and
standardized root mean square residual (SRMR). According
to the joint-criteria approach, a good structural testing model
approaches CFI = .96 and SRMR = .10, or RMSEA = .06 and
SRMR = .10 (Hu & Bentler, 1999).
To validate the factor structure of the model in this data
set, a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was first conducted
(Hunter, 1980). Results (eigenvalues > 1.0, varimax rotation)
produced three clean factors (primary loadings = .59-.96;
highest cross-loading = .33; variance explained = 69%).
Furthermore, we tested common method variance by loading
all three variables as one single factor. If common method was
present, the one-factor model would fit the data well
(Harman, 1976). Results indicated that the one-factor model
did not fit the data well, and had ?2
(5) = 91.31, p < .001,
CFI = .54, TLI = .98, RMSEA = .28, AGFI = .66, and
SRMR = .09. Therefore, common method variance was not
considered a threat.
Following CFA, results revealed that the structural model
was a good fit to the data: ?2
(3) = 38.70, p = .74, CFI = 1.00,
TLI = .98, RMSEA = .02, AGFI = .92, and SRMR = .05. The
complete model, shown in Figure 1, shows support for H1. A
positive and significant effect was found between personal
health identity and WHP participation (ß = .62, p < .001),
WHP participation and organizational identification (ß = .61,
p < .001), and personal health identity and organizational
identification (ß = .23, p < .01).
The current study investigated the intersection of individual
and organizational identities at work, filling a gap in the
literature by demonstrating the effect of personal health
identities on organizational identification. This analysis
revealed that employees’ participation in a WHP program
mediates personal health and organizational identities. Other
health identification research had investigated how group
and organizational identifications influence health behaviors,
whereas this study showed how personal health identities
influence organizational attachments through the situated
activity of WHP participation. People who define themselves
Table 1. Means, standard deviations, and correlations
Variable M SD 1 23
1. Personal health identity 5.57 0.56
2. Organizational identification 5.85 1.06 0.32*
3. WHP program participation 5.93 1.31 0.27** 0.77**
Note. N = 204.
*p = .05, **p = .01.
in terms of their health are more likely to participate in
WHP programs, which, in turn, increases their organizational
identification. This research makes several contributions
to theory and practice.
Theoretical Contributions
First, the current study contributes to the WHP literature, as
participation rates in WHP programs are often relatively low,
and scholars have called for theory-driven research to increase
employees’ participation (Linnan, Sorensen, Colditz, Klar, &
Emmons, 2001). This research provides a theoretical explanation
for employees’ involvement in WHP programs by showing
the positive relationship between personal health identities
and wellness program participation. Specifically, this study
contributes to the growing work that shows the role of identity
in predicting health behaviors (Moran & Sussman, 2014;
Stephens et al., 2014, 2015), and demonstrates the effect that
personal health identities and participation in workplace wellness
programs have on identification.
Furthermore, in addition to understanding organizational
benefits of productivity (Kuoppala et al., 2008), employee
absences (Conn et al., 2009; Kuoppala et al., 2008), and turnover
(DeJoy & Wilson, 2003), this research points to an
additional outcome of WHP participation: employees’
increased sense of belongingness. Although some scholarship,
particularly in the field of organizational communication, has
critiqued WHP (Farrell & Geist-Martin, 2005; Zoller, 2003),
the current project shows an additional way that WHP can
benefit employees and organizations. Rather than viewing
WHP as an organizational mandate to conform employees,
this study offers a bottom-up approach to WHP participation
by showing that some people already have healthy identities
which they bring to work. Scholars should recognize that
WHP programs may acknowledge and meet the needs of
employees’ preexisting healthy identities, which in turn help
employees feel more attached to work.
For example, consider the growing trend of wearable fitness
devices, such as Fitbit bands, which track a person’s
steps, calories burned, sleep, and more. Since people wear
these devices 24/7, they naturally bring wearable technologies
to work. Many businesses are now incorporating these devices
into their corporate wellness programs, but that effort has
been more of a “grass-roots” movement, according to James
Park, the CEO of Fitbit. He explained, “Similar to how
employees brought iPhones into the workplace to replace
BlackBerry, employees who really love Fitbit are bringing
[the devices] to their HR [human resources person] and
saying, ‘Let’s use this as part of our corporate wellness program’”
(Thompson, 2014, para. 6). This example demonstrates
that WHP programs are not always introduced in a
top-down manner, and scholars should recognize how WHP
participation can be organically cultivated through employees
who value health.
A second theoretical contribution of this project is the
attention it draws to the role of activities in the negotiation
of identities. Although Scott et al. (1998) encouraged scholars
to pursue how identification processes are situated within
activities, only recently have scholars empirically considered
the role of organizational activities in fostering identification
(Meisenbach & Kramer, 2014; Stephens & Dailey, 2012).
Filling authors’ calls for more research in this area, this
study shows how employees’ involvement in a workplace
wellness program mediates the relationship between individuals’
health identities and their organizational identification.
We contend that organizational activities, like WHP programs,
serve as identity bridges because they allow employees
to express both personal and work identity targets.
As home and work life become more intertwined, health
communication research must shift to look at the various
activities, beyond health and wellness programs, that companies
offer to bridge employees’ personal and work lives. Other
work–life initiatives, such as company-paid sabbaticals or
volunteer days, are additional activities that may act as identity
bridges. For example, workers who have a strong connection
to animals, gardening, or education may benefit from
volunteer opportunities at pet shelters, parks, or schools.
Businesses could strategically offer a range of volunteer events
to bridge different personal identities to the company. Future
research should examine other health initiatives or personalorganizational
activities that might promote stronger organizational
Furthermore, it would be interesting to explore whether
actual participation in the organizational wellness activity is
requisite for identification, or whether simply the opportunity
for activity can foster identification. In other words, does the
identity bridge just need to exist, or do employees need to
“use” the bridge? Scott et al. (1998, p. 305) contended “interaction
as being essential to the development of identification,”
but the authors suggested that this interaction might be actual
or “hypothesized.” In our measure of WHP participation, we
included items about employees’ current and desired participation
in the wellness program. Subsequent studies should
look at the difference between active versus potential involvement
in an organizational activity, because just the option to
engage in the activity may be enough to boost identification.
Health Identity
0.62*** WHP
Figure 1. Path coefficients for the mediation model between personal health identity, workplace health promotion program participation, and organizational
identification.Significance: **p = .01, ***p = .001.
Third, this study significantly adds to communication
scholars’ understanding of multiple identifications by
exploring how personal identities influence organizational
identities. Although in their conceptualization of nested
identities Ashforth and Johnson (2001, p. 44) suggested
that “personal identities likely play a critical role” in multiple
identifications (see also Scott et al., 1998), few studies had
explored the effect of individual identity enactment on organizational
identification. Future research should continue to
extend the multiple identifications literature by exploring
other effects of health identities on work-related identification
targets. For example, what happens when personal and
organizational identities do not align? In the current study,
we did not test for other forms of identification, such as
disidentification, ambivalent identification, and neutral
identification (Kreiner & Ashforth, 2004), but people likely
distance their attachment when organizations’ values or
efforts do not align with their personal identities. Many
employees may feel uncomfortable talking about health at
work, or workers may not see the benefit in workplace wellness
programs (Geist-Martin & Scarduzio, 2011). This
research takes a first step in adding to theory surrounding
multiple identifications by studying what happens when
people evoke their individual identities at work, but there
is much more work to be done in this area, particularly
exploring the “dark side” of the link between personal health
identities and organizational identification.
In the current study, we investigated one aspect of personal
identity, health, which employees were able to communicate
by participating in an organizational wellness program. As
employers increasingly adopt family and social roles (Kirby,
2006), identification scholars need to better understand how
individual identities influence other attachment targets. There
are likely many more personal identities, besides one’s health,
that people bring to work. For example, studies have shown
the integration of religion (e.g., Lynn, Naughton, &
VanderVeen, 2010), sexual orientation (Prati & Pietrantoni,
2014), and personal technology frames (Treem, Dailey,
Pierce, & Leonardi, 2015) in organizations, but scholars have
yet to explore how enacting personal identities influences
organizational identification or other work-related identification
targets. For example, the presence or absence of an
affinity group and identification with an ethnicity, race, or
sexual orientation might affect organizational identification.
Or, an employee with a highly salient parental identity might
participate in an on-site day-care program, which strengthens
the worker’s organizational identification.
Practical Contributions
On a practical level, managers can use these findings to
increase employees’ identification within organizations.
Rather than promoting generalized wellness initiatives that
emphasize broad health benefits (e.g., get healthier by visiting
our on-site gym), organizations can increase WHP participation
and benefit from more identified employees with more
targeted health promotion programs and specific wellness
campaigns. Organizations could take the time to understand
workers’ health identities (e.g., runners, yogis) and capitalize
on different health identities, perhaps implementing a “runners
club” or “yoga group,” which should strengthen employees’
participation and organizational identification.
Companies may also use the findings of this study as a
rationale for the cost of investing in WHP. In addition to the
benefits of increased work productivity (Kuoppala et al.,
2008), reduced employee absences (Conn et al., 2009;
Kuoppala et al., 2008), and decreased turnover (DeJoy &
Wilson, 2003), there are several advantages to an identified
workforce. For example, employees with high identification
are more likely to exert more effort and assist others (Bartel,
2001), as well as to remain in organizations (Scott et al., 1999).
Therefore, companies can earn a greater return on investment
because wellness programs help create bonds between workers
and their employers. WHP programs provide a common
ground for workers, regardless of their position in the organization,
to communicate their personal health identities and
build relationships with coworkers in a comfortable environment.
Likewise, employees who feel disconnected from their
work may feel more engaged if they participate in WHP
programs versus engaging in health activities outside of
work. Workplace wellness programs allow people who assume
healthy identities to feel more connected to work because they
allow individuals’ healthy identities and work identities to
overlap. If health is important to a person, participating in a
workplace wellness program will help that individual feel
more integrated at work. On an ethical note, companies
need to acknowledge that although their wellness programs
may help employees reap individual benefits of being healthier
and more integrated at work, such initiatives are also
profiting organizations.
Lastly, this study helps organizational leaders understand
the interaction between personal identity and organizational
identification in a non-Western environment of workplace
health promotion. Because China, the world’s second largest
economy, is undergoing rapid economic and social changes, it
provides a suitable context to test and extend Western works
on social identity theory. Furthermore, the U.S. Census projects
that by 2050, the Hispanic and Asian populations will
both triple; the Black population will almost double; and the
White population will barely hold its own (Salisbury & Byrd,
2006). As the United States becomes more ethnically and
racially diverse, this study facilitates employers’ and workplace
health managers’ understanding of an increasingly heterogeneous
Limitations and Conclusion
Despite the many theoretical and practical contributions of this
study, like any study, this project is not without limitations.
Methodologically, our data were collected only through the use
of surveys, and we relied on self-report measures, which are
subject to participation bias and social desirability effects. Also,
SEM cannot test directionality in relationships, so subsequent
studies should explore how identification might influence WHP
participation. Research has demonstrated the effect of identification
on various health perceptions, including health beliefs
(Moran & Sussman, 2014), health knowledge (Stephens et al.,
2014), and behavioral intentions (Stephens et al., 2015).
However, scholars have yet to understand the potential link
between high levels of organizational identification and actual
health behaviors, such as participation in wellness programs.
Participation in WHP might also shape individuals’ health
identities. We chose the tested model because of the support
and evidence from reviewed literature, but there may be other
models that fit the data equally well.
In terms of sampling, data were collected from only one
organization in one country. Although we believe our findings
should transfer to other organizations and cultures, future
research should confirm these results with respondents from
other countries. Furthermore, our measure of participation in
the WHP program could have been more precise, and we did
not account for other variables that might influence organizational
In conclusion, this study fills an important gap in the
literature by understanding how personal identities affect
work identifications. Our research shows that participation
in WHP programs mediates the relationship between individual
identity and organizational identification. In addition
to adding to health communication scholars’ knowledge of
multiple identifications, this research highlights the role of
activities in the identification process, and contributes to
WHP literature by showing a new outcome of wellness
program participation. We hope this study serves as a foundation
for future studies to explore other factors that
increase WHP participation, as well as other activities that
encourage the integration of personal and organizational
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