Mark Craemer No Comments

With summer’s extended daylight and warmer weather, it’s time to spend more time outside, get consistent exercise, and focus on our physical health. Along with the beginning of the New Year, the start of summer typically marks a time when many of us decide to take charge of our health.

Obviously, our physical well-being should be monitored year round because this is the best way to maintain healthy weight and prevent illness. So why don’t we do it?

Many reasons exist for not getting to the gym regularly or walking rather than driving for an errand. Time is the most convenient and popular excuse. And many of us blame our jobs for taking away too much of this.

Should employers then be responsible for their employees’ overall health?

In the United States, almost 80% of illnesses are considered preventable and they represent 90% of all health care costs. People with more risk factors, including being overweight, smoking and having diabetes not only cost more to insure, they also pay more for health care than individuals with fewer risk factors.

Many organizations have chosen to implement workplace wellness programs to reduce injuries, health care costs and long-term disability. They also do so to encourage employees to take charge of their own health and well-being. These programs are a good return on investment, but can be difficult to measure.

Some research suggests that for every dollar spent on employee wellness, employers get an average of $3.48 back in reduced health care costs and $5.82 in lower absenteeism.

Employees who live more healthy lifestyles have:

  • reduced sick leave
  • improved work performance
  • decrease health insurance costs
  • increased productivity
  • reduced overall costs

Workplace wellness programs may include flexible work schedules, health club memberships, smoking cessation programs, diet and nutrition counseling, stress management techniques, bike or walk to work incentives, and many others.

My wife’s company currently participates in a program called Just Walk 10,000 Steps-a-Day that shows people how they can benefit from simply walking and encourages them to engage in this activity throughout each day. Participants wear a pedometer for two months in order to monitor their daily activity with the goal of 10,000 steps each day.

Workplace wellness program can:

Reduce absenteeism. Healthier employees spend fewer days away from work due to illness, which can save the organization thousands, even millions, of dollars on down time and temporary employment.

Control health care costs. Employers have a vested interest in health-related issues and reducing unnecessary medical costs that consume corporate profits and employee paychecks.

Improve presenteeism. Presenteeism is the phenomenon occurring when employees are at work but do not feel as productive as usual due to stress, depression, injury or illness.

Reduce injuries. Healthy employees with less risk factors are at a lower risk for injury than those unhealthy employees with more risk factors. Classes are a popular means of trying to prevent injury, including exercise classes, smoking cessation courses, back care programs and stress management lectures.

Improve employee morale and retention. Employee turnover is expensive and an employee wellness program is an added benefit to encourage employee retention. Company sponsored workplace wellness programs send a clear message to employees that management values their well-being.

Many companies, however, find it hard to justify their return on investment due to a lack of standardization among wellness program offerings or components.

The Alliance for Wellness ROI is an inter-company nonprofit cooperative formed to standardize the terminology and measurement of the return on investment of wellness programs. It recently created a Wellness ROI Modeler that calculates return on investment using comparative health care claims, wellness program participation, normalized claims data and wellness expenditures.

The Alliance hopes this modeler will become a useful tool for companies to prove that investment in a wellness program has a positive financial return and can help curb the rising costs of healthcare.

A healthy lifestyle can not and should not be the sole responsibility of employers, but encouraging employees to take charge of their health through workplace wellness programs can go a long way toward improving the health of individuals and the overall bottom line.

Mark Craemer 

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