Employee wellness is good business.by Violette, Judy A.
Last year, American companies spent billions of dollars on health-care related expenses and disabilities resulting from controllable problems such as alcoholism, drug addiction, smoking, obesity high cholesterol, and hypertension. A significant portion of this expense went for insurance costs, that have dramatically increased over the past decade. Researchers have estimated that employers spend up to 25% of their total payroll expenses in an attempt to recover decreased productivity due to absenteeism and reduced effort relating to controllable health problems.
Studies have clearly demonstrated that smokers, non-exercisers, and overweight individuals have higher health-care costs and longer hospital stays. This translates into higher health insurance premiums. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, more than 50% of all deaths of people under age 65 are directly attributable to unhealthy lifestyles. The link between heart disease, cancer, and stroke (the top three killer diseases in America today), and an unhealthy lifestyle, is well proven.
More than 1.5 million Americans, many in the prime of their careers, suffer heart attacks each year, and more than a third will die from them. High blood pressure, which can lead to stroke, afflicts over 50 million Americans. Together, heart disease, hypertension, and stroke result in the loss of 29 million workdays each year.
Undesired premature retirements or early deaths due to correctable health problems should not be routinely expected. A properly organized and implemented wellness program is a logical alternative to the needless waste of valuable human resources.
What is a Wellness Program?
A wellness program is much more than an exercise program. Wellness is a combination of activities that focus on employee health promotion and disease prevention. A wellness program provides a wide range of health promotion services that are customized to the needs of a business and its employees, including top management. The wellness consultant begins the program with an overall assessment of organization members' health, and identification of the firm's health goals and objectives. Confidential personal health profiles are developed for each employee in order to identify specific health risks, as well as employee interests and needs.
The consultant's assessment should provide a summary of how "well" the firm is, and should suggest what types of workshops might be helpful.
Workshops addressing problem areas identified by the assessment of the firm and the personal health profiles of individuals are arranged. By offering these workshops in the morning before work begins, or at noontime, or immediately after the workday, a business need not take up valuable work time. However, a firm may want to allow the initial health assessments during company time to show the extent of its commitment.
A wellness program often includes workshops dealing with such topics as nutrition, smoking cessation, stress management, weight loss, lower back pain, general concepts of fitness and safe exercise, as well as other health and lifestyle topics of specific concern to the employees and management of the firm.
Usually the program will include on-site clinical screening to check cholesterol levels, monitor blood-pressure, test muscular flexibility, and measure percentage of body fat. Additional tests may determine cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength.
Benefits of a Wellness Program
An effective wellness program benefits the firm as well as the individuals participating. Some likely benefits to the firm include: reduced insurance premiums, fewer debilitating accidents, reduced employee turnover, reduced employee absenteeism, increased productivity, increased employee satisfaction and motivation, an enhanced community reputation due to the firm's commitment to employee wellness, a favorable recruiting tool, and an overall enhanced quality of life for its employees both on and off the job.
Arguments Against Having a Wellness Program
"We can't afford it " A more appropriate statement may be "A business can't afford not to." Maybe a business can't afford an elaborate in- house fitness facility. But at whatever level it can afford, an investment in wellness costs far less than the loss of valuable and perhaps irreplaceable people to preventable disease or injury.
"No other similar size firm is doing it." This may well be the case. What a wonderful opportunity for your firm to take the lead. Successful firms are often innovators.
"Participation will be low. " That hasn't been the case for businesses in other industries, regardless of size. Experience shows that employees want to participate, and will, if the program is properly implemented. Among other things, this means top management support, concern, and involvement.
It's none of our business. " Keeping its employees more fit is a firm's business. Adverse lifestyles and their consequences cost this country billions of dollars each year, and employers pay a very large share of these direct and indirect costs. But more than the money, it is the right thing to do if a firm truly cares about its employees. Simply sending them a memo instructing them to keep fit" won't work.
Designing a Wellness Program
Sponsoring a wellness program is an investment of firm time, effort, and money. A wellness program does not have to be elaborate and expensive to be effective. The sophistication of the program selected depends on the health problems of the employees in your firm and the resources you have available.
The firm should minimize the risks of health misinformation to employees by contracting only with licensed professionals from reputable health promotion organizations with experience in administering wellness programs.
A health awareness program normally requires that one person at the firm acts as a coordinator. The coordinator would contact reputable organizations concerned with health care such as a local university or YMCA, along with community offices of the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association. These organizations should be able to provide information concerning quality wellness programs that are available in the community.
It is not at all necessary for a firm to provide on-site exercise facilities. Depending on the money available, a business might pay for all or part of a membership in a YMCA or other fitness facility located near the workplace. Another possibility is to contract for delivery of regular on-site aerobic classes at noon or before or after work hours, if a firm has adequate floor space (such as a large conference room) and sufficient employee demand. If feasible, a business could provide on- site showers to encourage exercise at the office or during lunchtime somewhere else.
If your wellness program is going to be successful, with high levels of participation, top management must be behind it. They have to support it, and be active in it. This doesn't mean that the managing partner has to participate in noon aerobics (though it could be inspirational to see this sort of commitment), but top management should be active in early testing and assessment, as well as in attending appropriate seminars on wellness.
Besides management commitment and participation, your wellness program needs an enthusiastic coordinator. It will be the coordinator's job to make the program successful by inspiring employees and management to take part. The coordinator must be a person who sincerely believes in wellness and can give the energy and creativity that it needs to the program.
The coordinator's main job is to motivate people to join by convincing them that the program will help them enjoy a better and healthier life. Ideally such a person exists at your firm, but, if not, it is possible that a coordinator could be hired to run your program on a consulting basis.
It is also very important to form an advisory committee that oversees operations and solicits feedback. Committee membership should include all levels of employees, with the coordinator acting as chairperson. Involving members from all levels of the firm fosters commitment and enthusiasm. It is important to solicit feedback from participants in order to fairly evaluate the program, and to solicit comments from nonparticipants on how you can help them become involved.
Although wellness programs started at large corporations, they are beginning to appear at many smaller businesses too. Consider that a wellness program may be more important for small firms that can ill afford to lose even one key person.
There is nothing mysterious about preventing many disabling conditions. Something can be done to prevent health problems that make us retire to a life of dependence and immobility caused by preventable degenerative disease. Sensible living habits and regular exercise is crucial to feeling, looking, and staying well. An effective wellness program can assist you and your employees in meeting desired goals and avoiding disabling problems.
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