In the current economic climate, employees rank among a company's most important assets. It makes sense that healthy people make for healthy companies. Yet, experts suggest preventable illnesses make up approximately 70 percent of illness and associated costs in the United States.
“Investing in your employees’ health is one of the soundest investments employers can make,” says Eugene Sun, M.D., M.B.A., vice president of Medical Affairs for HealthAmerica. “By initiating a health promotion program, employers can take important steps toward preventing unnecessary sickness.”
Smart Business spoke to Dr. Sun about why employers should be concerned about their employees’ wellness.
Why would a company invest in workplace wellness?
More and more health experts are turning that question around and asking, ‘How can a company not invest in the health of its employees?’ The evidence is becoming quite convincing that keeping employees healthy and on the job is worth the effort. After all, if you can reduce the burden of illness among your work force by preventing major causes of sickness, more of your employees will remain healthy and productive. You most likely will save money in the process.
What’s the real return on investment with worksite wellness programs?
That turns out to be one of the most incisive questions of all. In the last decade, large-scale studies on the effects of work-place health programs have shown a dependable bottom line. These studies show worksite wellness programs often result in a reduction of health care and insurance costs, as well as declines in absenteeism, injury rates, and improvements in performance and productivity.
One recent study showed that when employees used fitness facilities at least eight times a month over two years, hospital and clinic claims declined by more than 64 percent, physician claims dropped by 13 percent and claims for prescription drugs decreased by more than 9 percent. It’s encouraging to see when facts match your intuition; healthy people really do use health care less.
Have you seen an increase in companies investing in wellness programs?
Definitely. According to the United Benefit Advisors' (UBA) 2007 Employer Survey, the number of employers of all sizes and industries that are adopting personal health management strategies continues to increase. Roughly, 25 percent of all employers currently provide various wellness or health risk assessment programs, and an additional 50 percent of employers would like to add such programs in the future. In addition, employers now overwhelmingly believe there should be a difference in benefits or costs based on an employee's involvement in managing chronic conditions.
What would you say to an employer who says starting a worksite wellness program is too expensive?
Successful workplace health interventions don’t always need to be big-budget affairs. Most health insurers have a variety of health resources to make it easier for employers to start their own wellness program.
Ask your health insurer about integrating worksite wellness and benefit plan design through consumer-directed health plans. These lifestyle-driven plans reward healthy choices. One study found that employees in consumer-directed programs are 25 percent more likely to engage in healthy behavior and 20 percent more likely to participate in wellness initiatives.
Several excellent Web sites provide free information employers can use. Welcoa at www.welcoa.org/freeresources provides employee presentations, incentive campaigns, free reports and much more. Wellness Proposals at www.wellnessproposals.com is also a good place to start, as is the American Journal of Health Promotion at www.healthpromotionjournal.com.
Anything else an employer should consider?
Every little bit counts. The most cost-conscious program can help create a health-positive environment. When the goals are well-defined and the approach well-designed, success can be affordable. Furthermore, worksite health programs that appear to have only a modest, immediate result are of great value. Not only will the programs improve performance and satisfaction of current employees, good health and fitness programs tend to attract good applicants.
EUGENE SUN, M.D., M.B.A., vice president of Medical Affairs for HealthAmerica. Reach him at (412) 553-7385 or firstname.lastname@example.org.