As the debate over the cost of workplace wellness rages on, several organizations are stepping forward to point out that the cost of employee health isn’t the problem.
Rapidly evolving technology in the workplace is making business more agile, many jobs easier, and everyone more connected in general. It’s also slowly killing us.
The majority of workers in the United States—80 percent according to the CDC in 2013—work in jobs that require little or no physical activity, and do not meet weekly activity goals to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The U.S. Department of Labor has concluded that the annual financial impact of poor health is $1.8 trillion. Stress management platform meQuilibrium shared in a new survey that 78 percent of workers put their stress levels at medium to very high. And don’t get started on the smokers’ statistics.
Much of this can be blamed on our reliance on devices for work. Even worse is the 24/7 connectivity expectations many companies expect their employees to adhere to, which contributes to heightened stress outside of the workplace.
“We’re checking our smartphones 150 times a day, how focused can we really be? All of this time in front of screens, for work and in our personal lives, means we’re not exercising and eating well, and all of this feeds into a vicious cycle of poor health choices,” noted Shawn La Vana, Head of Marketing, Virgin Pulse, and participant in the Global Wellness Institute’s July 2015 Roundtable.
American workers are burned out, overworked, and often unhealthy, and very few people and companies are committed to fixing the problem.
There have been radical suggestions for change like from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, who is a proponent of an 11-hour, 3-day work week. There are other voices out there too—Ariana Huffington stands out in the space—calling for a workplace wellness revolution.
It’s not all bad news and statistics: many industries and companies are getting on the right track in regard to workplace wellness. Some (like Google, Fitbit, Zappos, and many others) are setting the example, and more and more companies are following. Today, nearly 80 percent of people who work for organizations with 50 or more employees have access to a wellness program, according to a 2013 RAND study.
What needs to be understood in corporate America is that workplace wellness is not a buzz phrase or trend. It’s a reality that, if realized, can bring tremendous value to your employees and ultimately your company. But only if you do it right. A Virgin HealthMiles/Workforce survey found that only half of employees surveyed said they have a good understanding of how to participate in health and wellness programs being offered by their employers.
A quality and well-executed plan for health and wellness in the workplace can do wonders for your employees, the perception of your business, productivity, and eventually, revenue.
Even before an employee joins a company, he or she is often considering what health and wellness options are available: the HealthMiles survey also found that about 87 percent of employees said they consider health and wellness offerings when choosing an employer.
If the company integrates its wellness plans with the company culture seamlessly, positive impacts abound. The same survey depicts a strong correlation between the wellness and vitality of an organization, and the wellness of employees. The result of which was increased job morale, satisfaction, commitment, and performance.
“Creating a culture-first mentality is a critical step for employers when it comes to building a highly engaged workforce,” said Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin HealthMiles.
But a culture of wellness is not just about productivity or employee morale—it’s also about the bottom line. It’s common sense, but healthier employees are a better value to a company than those who aren’t. ConAgra’s VP of Human Resources, Charlie Salter, shared that those who are obese or carry several different health risks like high cholesterol or blood pressure, are smokers, or have a high BMI are 2.5 times more costly than people with two risks or less.
Further, a 2007 analysis from Duke University Medical Center found that obese workers filed twice the number of workers’ compensation claims, had seven times higher medical costs from the claims, and lost 13 times more days of work from work injury or work illness than other workers.
One of the driving factors of these statistics is for every $1 spent on healthcare, only $.05 is spent on prevention. But wellness programs in workplaces are the type of preventative care people often need. Since U.S. workers are overworked, most people spend long hours in the office. Even if you just work the typical 9 to 5, you’re at work for a third of your day. Having relaxation facilities, fitness events, and healthy food options available to employees ups the value of their job, and allows them to associate work with more than just…work.
The savings of well-executed workplace wellness strategies can be very impressive. Harvard Business Review shared that medical costs fall by about $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs. Absenteeism, sick leave, health costs, workers compensation, and disability costs all drop significantly when a wellness plan is implemented. The question then becomes, why aren’t all companies doing this?
It can take years for the more pronounced results to show—just like a person losing weight, the progress doesn’t show immediately, but gradually. When shareholders are demanding a monetary return on every dollar invested, wellness and similar goals can be pushed to the way side.
The focus on money can also be a downfall to successful workplace wellness programs. Even though the stats we shared above are promising and point to great savings, a roundtable conversation conducted by the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) and several thought leaders concluded that the focus needs to instead be on a “return of value” rather than healthcare costs. This can include gains in retention and productivity, which are often the first things to improve when implementing a strong plan.
Some companies just don’t try hard enough—or don’t know how—to make wellness a part of the culture. This GWI roundtable also determined that no matter how committed to a wellness program some companies are, many of them just institute a third-party delivered add-on program or two, and don’t make the effort to integrate it fully with the business.
There isn’t a one-size fits all application of workplace wellness, nor do all results from employing a plan look the same. Productivity is difficult to measure and cannot just be entered into a column in a spreadsheet to track.
This roundtable meeting—which hosted leaders from Weight Watchers, Scientific American, the Clinton Global Initiative, Johnson & Johnson, and other industry frontrunners—provided those interested in starting or improving the wellness cultures at their own companies with some points to address going forward.
This included extending wellness opportunities to remote workers, not following “cookie cutter” wellness plans and adapting to local realities, culture, and resources, focusing on mental health and the deepening age gap, and, again, focusing on integrating wellness not just into a strategy, but the fabric of your company culture.
There is a lot of debate out there about whether workplace wellness is worth the investment or not. I think the debate comes from a different place altogether. Sometimes, decision makers can forget what makes their company run: people.
Happy, passionate, inspired employees will do good work, and want to work hard for the common goal. When the company culture allows employees to thrive in a setting like this, productivity and a host of other benefits will more than likely become apparent.