HR Management & Compliance

Making the Case for Workplace Wellness

For more and more workplaces, the cure for the upward spiral of employee ill health and healthcare costs is workplace wellness. The benefits can be significant.

For years, worksite health promotion was one of those ideas that employers talked about in a “How could it hurt?” kind of way. But these days, the business case for protecting employee health is hard to ignore. Return on investment is assessed by some sources as high as 300 percent—that’s $3 for every dollar invested.

According to one estimate, employers can earn back the cost of wellness programs over the course of 5 years if they reduce risk factors by only about 0.2 percent. The idea is that improving employee health can help combat what some call an epidemic of chronic diseases.

Conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes are extremely expensive to treat, and they dramatically drive down production. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, “Workplace wellness efforts can positively impact human capital investments.”


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Consider the Facts

More than 95 percent of health expenditures, including most of the billions employers spend on health coverage, are committed to diagnosing and treating disease only after it becomes manifest. (Source: Partnership for Prevention)

Researchers estimate that preventable illness makes up approximately 70 percent of the burden of illness and the associated costs. (Source: New England Journal of Medicine)

Poor health habits take an enormous toll on American business. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • It costs employers an average of $1,300 a year for an employee who smokes.
  • Up to 40 percent of industrial fatalities can be linked to alcohol consumption and alcoholism.
  • Job stress is estimated to cost employers $200 billion-$300 billion annually.
  • As many as 1 million employees are absent on an average workday because of stress-related problems.
  • At least 100 million workdays are lost each year to lower back pain at a cost of about $20 billion.
  • One in five American adults is obese, and obesity is a major contributing factor for illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

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Wellness Tips You Can Implement Now

Wellness is one area where small changes can make a big impact. Here are some ways to support healthy lifestyles for your employees:

Encourage healthy eating. Help workers’ efforts by:

  • Providing healthy menus at workplace events. Serve fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains instead of baked goods.
  • Making work a “safe food zone.” Discourage workers from bringing in party leftovers or baked goods. Provide recipes for healthier holiday options.
  • Ensuring that workplace vending machines offer healthy choices, such as water, low-fat milk, baked whole-grain crackers, and fruit and vegetable chips.

Encourage other healthy habits. To help workers stay active and healthy:

  • If you give gifts to workers at any point in the year, consider items like gift cards for produce markets, sporting goods stores, or personal trainer services; pedometers and heart rate monitors; or subscriptions to healthy lifestyle magazines.
  • If the weather outside is frightful, provide indoor opportunities for exercise, such as walkable stairwells or handouts on performing stretching exercises at a desk.

Aid in stress management. Help keep workplace stress under control by:

  • Ensuring adequate staffing. During busy seasons, hire extra help to get it all done, if possible, rather than overloading your existing staff.
  • Sticking to essentials. If some tasks can be streamlined or eliminated completely, find ways to make that happen.
  • Being sensitive. If a worker exhibits symptoms of stress, step in sooner rather than later to figure out whether you can help. Maybe you can encourage an employee who has taken on too much to scale back or delegate, or steer a worker having problems outside the workplace to your Employee Assistance Program.

Tomorrow: The potential wellness pitfalls you need to watch out for from a legal standpoint.

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