Companies Benefit from Combining Work and Wellness
August 4, 2011 1 Comment
Unhealthy habits can affect a person’s quality of life and their general feeling of self-worth, as well as impacting their work performance and motivation. From an employer’s perspective, an unhealthy worker can result in increased health care costs and workers’ compensation claims related to health problems. According to the Wellness Councils of America, more than 80 percent of U.S. businesses with 50 or more employees have some form of health promotion program. These programs are designed to enhance the health of a company’s most important asset—its employees.
At Texas Mutual, we have a long history of supporting wellness at work. The company provides a variety of wellness tools and resources for its employees to reduce health risks and to promote healthy behaviors, including health risk assessments, fitness centers at all locations, free yoga and cardio-focused classes located onsite, prizes, apparel, and reduced health insurance premiums. The program has resulted in a number of positive results, such as:
- Employees scoring in the good and excellent health categories increased by 8.2 percentage points from 2010 to 2011.
- Participants with lower health risks in the areas of body mass index, blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose showed lower average claims cost.
- As overall employee health improved, sick leave usage decreased.
The following components are critical to a successful wellness program:
- Executive and management support, including leading by example, encouraging participants, and promoting a culture of wellness.
- Frequent communication, including advance notice of program features, consistent messaging and branding, and sharing success stories.
- Implement and build program slowly while being sure to apply standards fairly and consistently.
- Use program data and results to adjust and enhance the program accordingly.
The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine estimates the cost of obesity on U.S. employers is $73.1 billion annually in medical costs and lost productivity. This cost is a burden that can be avoided, at least in part, with a healthier lifestyle approach. General benefits that are associated with a successful corporate wellness program also include reduced stress, improved morale, reduced health care and insurance costs, appeal to potential employees, reduced absenteeism and increased company loyalty.
Stress reduction. The American Institute of Stress cited an “Attitudes in the American Workplace” poll that showed 80 percent of employees felt stress at work. Job stress can be a more common factor of health complaints than financial or family problems, often causing physical, emotional or psychological pain. Many corporate wellness programs include some type of physical activity, such as yoga or walking classes, meditation and physical activity are two common ways to reduce stress, and wellness programs can provide those opportunities for stress relief.
Improved health and morale. A 2009 case study from Preventing Chronic Disease found that employees who engaged in more physical activity had better knowledge of disease management, better eating habits and smoked less than they did before a wellness program was implemented. Employers can provide wellness tools that are educational and practical for their employees to implement during work and at home. Companies that have an onsite gym or provide fresh fruit for their employees make healthy tools more accessible during a busy workday.
Reduced health care costs. Unhealthy employees can be a burden on health care costs for a company. Sales and Marketing Management estimates that preventable illnesses make up 70 percent of all health care claims, many of which are linked to specific health habits, such as tobacco use, poor nutritional habits and lack of physical activity. Wellness programs provide employees with tools to reduce health risks and the knowledge to make healthier choices.
Workers’ compensation costs. A 2007 study of Duke University employees showed obesity had a significant effect on the cost and duration of workers’ compensation claims. The Duke University Medical Center analysis found that obese workers filed twice the number of workers’ compensation claims, had seven times higher medical costs from those claims, and lost 13 times more days of work from work injury or work illness than did non-obese workers.
The researchers found that workers with a BMI greater than 40 had 11.65 claims per 100 workers, compared with 5.8 claims per 100 in workers within the recommended range. In terms of average lost days of work, the obese averaged 183.63 per 100 employees, compared with 14.19 per 100 for those in the recommended range. The average medical claims costs per 100 employees were $51,019 for the obese and $7,503 for the non-obese.
Appeal to potential employees. As people become more health conscious, a job applicant may consider a corporate wellness program an extra incentive to that workplace. Prospective employees often look at the pay, vacation, and insurance structure of a potential employer when considering a position. A wellness program can be another employee benefit on the company’s resume.
Reduced absenteeism. Providing incentives for employee well-being encourages the improvement of an employee’s overall health and often results in less required sick time. American Sports Data shows that those individuals who exercise frequently stayed home from work an average of 2.11 days annually compared with 3.06 days for individuals who were not active. This will not only help keep employees productive, but it will also reduce extra costs associated with hiring a temporary worker.
Increased company loyalty. Retention of key employees is an important factor for continued productivity and success at a company. Providing a corporate wellness program can help current employees feel more valued. A wellness program rewards employees for hard work and lets them know that the company recognizes the importance of its employees’ health.