An Ounce of Prevention
We hear it all the time- Americans need to eat healthier (and less), exercise more, and in general, take better care of ourselves. Heart disease, lung cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes are among the top ten health problems in America—and most of the causes of these illnesses are self-inflicted, and therefore, preventable.
So what does the way we eat, how much we exercise, and how many packs we smoke per week have to do with work? Many companies are now starting to believe that the answer is…everything. Not only are companies paying higher healthcare costs to cover those who have chronic illnesses or major health-related events such as surgeries , but they are beginning to realize that healthier employees are happier, more engaged, and more productive. There has even been recent research that shows that employees who eat a balanced diet have 10 times more energy, along with higher levels of morale. Think about it: do you work better after you’ve eaten a salad and some fruit for lunch, or a bacon cheeseburger with fries?
A white paper just released by MetLife profiles four multinational corporations who have launched global health and wellness programs: American Express, Glaxo-Smith Kline, CEMEX, and PPG. What they found is that the United States is not the only country with major health concerns. For example, India has a growing problem with cardiovascular disease and diabetes due to poor diet, lack of exercise, and tobacco consumption. Mexico is also facing a similar trend, with 68% of Mexican adults being classified as obese, compared to just 10% 20 years ago. With workers spending more time sitting at desks, eating processed foods, exercising less, and dealing with more stress, it’s no wonder that the world’s health is declining.
Poor health is not only costing lives—in the US alone chronic disease costs the economy more than $1 trillion annually. Because companies here pay such a large portion of employee health care costs, employee health has become an economic issue. However, in other countries where healthcare is more heavily funded by the government, it’s more about reduced absenteeism, productivity, engagement and retention, and the company’s reputation as an employer of choice.
So what types of results have these programs produced? It’s difficult to tell so early on. A wellness program might not start showing truly positive effects for five to ten years. However, Metlife reported these statistics about the American Express Healthy Living Program in the US:
- 30,000 employee walk-in appointments at on-site clinics, including nurse practitioner services, a 14% increase from 2008
- 16,000 health assessments completed to identify health risks, a 430% increase from 2008
- 15,000 flu shots given to employees and family members, a 150% increase from 2008
- 9,300 health screenings delivered at 28 locations, a 180% increase from 2008
- 4,200 employees identified for health coaching (new program)
If an employee is not already motivated to exercise or to eat a balanced diet, he or she might not jump to participate in a work-sponsored plan. However, there are ways to sweeten the deal—you can offer a wellness component within your company’s overall employee recognition program. For example, some organizations include initiatives such as smoking cessation, gym membership, or receiving flu shots in their points programs. Here at Michael C. Fina we have a Weight Watchers at Work program in which anyone who reaches their goal gets the money they spent on the program back in full. So besides the spirit of support and friendly competition, there is a monetary incentive to get in the game.
What types of wellness initiatives do you have at your company?
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