Workers' Health On the Line: A Digital Intervention to Address the Fundamental Causes of Disease in the Low-Wage Retail Sector

Project Summary

The project team is conducting a randomized control trial (RCT) among people working in low-wage, precarious retail jobs to evaluate the impact of a new form of online organizing – facilitated discussion groups – on physical and emotional well-being, as well as health-related workplace engagement. Using a customized version of the mobile app WorkIt, developed as a resource for low-wage workers by the non-profit organization United for Respect, the researchers will test the relative effect of a facilitated discussion group compared to an online group that receives health-related information only.

Research Question(s)

  • What is the effect of participation in an online, work-focused group with relational facilitation on a group member’s physical and emotional well-being?
  • What is the effect of exposure to an online, work-focused group with relational facilitation on a group member’s propensity to become involved in collective action related to health?
  • What is the effect of exposure to different experimental conditions on the size and density of participants’ conversation networks?
  • What is the relationship between the size and density of people’s conversation networks and people’s physical and emotional well-being?
  • What are the effects of relational facilitation on solidarity and generalized altruism?
  • What is the relationship between feelings of group-level solidarity or generalized altruism, on the one hand, and individual-level well-being?
  • What is the relationship between group-level solidarity and propensity for involvement in collective action?


  • Build a culture of health by fostering shared values and improving health outcomes among a vulnerable population by providing information on the values and possible drawbacks of forming an online community.


Health & well-being: self-reported physical wellbeing; sleep (amount and quality); exercise (steps per day); psychological distress

Other: Sense of community; collective efficacy (participation in online petitions, filing complaints with an employer, reaching out to coworkers about work-related health issues); feelings of solidarity; generalized altruism


The researchers are using a randomized control trial (RCT) design, in which participants are randomly assigned to one online community of 200 participants each (accessed through a customized app), where each online community is in one of two experimental conditions: a relational facilitation condition or an information only condition. The researchers are complementing this with a mixed-methods observational study of the workplace discussion groups to explore relations between physical and emotional wellbeing and a) levels of online participation; b) changes in language use; and c) network positions in the discussion group.

Young woman looking at her phone
Grantee and Partner organizations

The American Assembly at Columbia University
United for Respect
Rutgers University

Grant status
In Progress
Principal investigators
Adam Reich, PhD
Hana Shepherd, PhD
Start date
Award amount
36 months

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