Improve performance, optimize efficiency and deliver value. That’s what employers are always under pressure to do. What many employers do not realize is that an integrated approach to safety and health can play a major role in creating healthier, high-performing workforces.

“Employers can have a major influence on the health and care behaviors of employees,” says Dr. Michael Parkinson, senior medical director for health and productivity at UPMC Health Plan. “Employers have a major role to play in both improving health and reducing health-related costs.”

Smart Business spoke with Parkinson about how to best improve employee health and productivity and reduce health costs.

What is the connection between employee health and company productivity?

Growing competitive and economic forces increasingly challenge employers and leaders of all organizations. A core asset of any organization is the health and productivity of its workforce, its ‘human capital.’ And as visible leaders, employers can influence their employees. It makes sense to provide an integrated, incentivized strategy to address the core drivers of poor health, excessive medical costs and lost productivity. Healthier employees are safer employees, and healthy, alert employees reinforce properly designed workplaces and safety policies.

By following an integrated and incentivized strategy that addresses the core drivers of poor health, excessive medical costs and lost productivity, employers not only improve the health and care behaviors of employees and their families but also add dollars to both their top and bottom line.

Total health management is increasingly being recognized as a business necessity, not a ‘nice to do.’

What’s the first step?

Building a culture of health, performance and productivity has been shown to be a critical determinant of the health and competitiveness of any business.

A comprehensive assessment of environmental drivers of health and productivity is an essential first step to determine an organization’s strengths and needs. The work environment is not just the traditional physical workplace, but also attitudes, behavior policies, compensation schedules and promotion opportunities.

Creating simple, reinforcing messages in corporate vision, compensation, and promotion and benefit alignment sends the message that employee and family health is core to the organization’s success.

How can healthy behaviors be improved?

Assisting employers to create the infrastructure to sustain health, wellness and productivity is a key responsibility of a health plan. A health plan can help sustain health and productivity through consultation, educational support, benefit alignment, and the creation of a wellness committee to initiate and sustain wellness efforts.

The recognition and rewarding of healthy employee champions is a key leadership message, along with making it known that the employer wants to assist employees and their families in achieving health goals.

By offering employees a health plan with appropriately designed and communicated incentives, employers have an evidence-based method to improve behavior change and increase employee engagement. Account-based, consumer-directed plans with additional targeted incentives for health improvement and care management decisions increase employee engagement and produce health care costs savings.

What results can an employer expect from an integrated and incentivized strategy?

The majority of the known causes of excessive health care and productivity costs — stress and mental health, absenteeism, short- and long-term disability, workers’ compensation, occupationally-related illness and injuries — can be addressed by an employer using a comprehensive and integrated strategy supported by targeted tactics, programs and practices.

By improving the health status of employees (and their families), by assisting them to get involved in their medical care decisions with their doctors and by directly targeting specific ineffective and inefficient medical practices and delivery modalities, both the employer and the employee can improve health and produce savings.

Dr. Michael Parkinson, MPH, FACPM, is the Senior Medical Director of Health and Productivity at UPMC Health Plan. Reach him at (412) 454-5643 or parkinsonmd@upmc.edu.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

Published in Pittsburgh