Because Workforce Friendly Policies Payoff

by Bruce Witzky - Date: 2010-11-10 - Word Count: 680 Share This!

Employer-sponsored wellness programs are becoming more popular as companies strive to maintain a healthy and productive work force and soften the financial impact of absenteeism. U.S. employers view improved productivity and reduced absenteeism behind only lower health care costs as their primary motivation for making wellness a workplace priority, according to a Managed Care magazine survey that encompassed 466 companies with a mean of 12,500 employees.

"The heightened global focus on improving productivity is a significant trend," says Barry Hall, a Buck Consultants principal who directed a recent global wellness survey. "Business leaders around the world are increasingly recognizing the financial value of healthier workers and the need to better engage employees in reducing their health risks."

Absenteeism resulted in an estimated $60 billion in lost productivity for U.S. companies in 2008, according to a report by Kalorama Information.

Common conditions leading to absenteeism - or presenteeism, a productivity decline attributed to health - include obesity (and oftentimes complications from diabetes), headaches, allergies, arthritis, asthma, hypertension and heart disease, stress and mental health-related problems such as depression. Co-morbidities - employees with multiple chronic health conditions - have the biggest impact on productivity loss.

"Presenteeism is worse than a high absenteeism rate, for two reasons," says Bruce Carlson, of Kalorama Information. "Sick employees can spread contagious disease to other employees and multiply productivity loss. And they can make mistakes when they are not at the top of their game."

For companies interested in improving the health of their work force, there are numerous examples to follow. A sampling:

·Flexible work schedules - Work/life balance is a hot topic as staffs shrink, responsibilities expand and expectations rise for today's worker. Individuals struggle with the demands of their job vs. their personal obligations (family, school, charity, social, etc.), making for a physically and emotionally taxing proposition. A Gordian Health Solutions survey revealed that highly stressed individuals had an average productivity loss of 4.4 percent compared to 0.7 percent for stress-free individuals. Flexible work schedules help alleviate stress by offering options such as non-traditional work weeks, flex time, job sharing and telecommuting. Sixty-three percent of the individuals polled by LifeCare Inc. said a flexible work schedule would make them more productive.

·Workplace modifications - The business environment should reflect a culture of wellness. Simple to do. Provide healthy food choices in vending machines and at meetings instead of fatty foods, ergonomically correct equipment and lighting, positive reinforcement through activities and signage, and exercise facilities such as fitness areas and designated walking paths. A one-year study by the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at Emory University revealed that workers in a modified environment demonstrated decreased risk of obesity and reduced rate of high blood pressure in comparison to their fellow workers in a standard setting.

·Wellness programs - Can be tailored to a company's goals, size, resources, participation level. Program could include discount rates at exercise facilities; health screenings for blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and bone density evaluations; incentives for participants in smoking cessation and weight-loss groups; tax-free health savings accounts; visits by health care professionals to discuss prevention and wellness; on-site personal appointments with counselors, nutritionists, chiropractors, massage therapists, etc. The Institute for Health and Productivity Studies studied weight management programs at 12 Dow Chemical work sites. Absenteeism was 1.5 days lower over a one-year period at sites with heavy emphasis on the program compared to the sites with a more relaxed approach. Dow saved about $414.90 per employee per year.

·Self-care plans - Employees of the Denver Center for Crime Victims are required to create an annual plan designed to improve their physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual well-being. The center's chief executive says it has led to a more satisfied, loyal and productive staff with exceptionally low attrition.

These are four examples of how companies are meeting the needs of their employees and putting programs in place for a healthier work environment. Anne Wolf, an instructor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine who specializes in researching the economic impact of obesity, sums up: "Employers who spend money in a lifestyle intervention will find their investment returned to them in the form of increased productivity and reduced absenteeism."

B. Touby Witzky is a Corporate Health Coach and Certified Personal Trainer in Franklin, TN. To help companies promote wellness in their workforce Touby draws on 12+ years of C-suite hospital management experience and a 30+ year passion and study of diet, exercise and fitness.n
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