Health care has changed drastically over the last couple of decades. Employee wellness has become a familiar topic.
There was a time when healthcare’s mission was to help people get well after they encountered an illness or injury.
That focus is much different today and has shifted to wellness education and prevention.
I worked in the healthcare industry for years, and as an employee of a large health system, I learned the many benefits of diet and exercise. I embraced this information and used it to influence my personal health decisions.
When I left healthcare, I discovered the lack of knowledge that employees had in other work environments. Simple bits of information about preventative health care that I took for granted were foreign to some employees. It was at this point that I was grateful for the time and money that was invested in teaching me the importance of wellness to sustain good health.
Good health is one of those things that we all take for granted – until we lose it. And, at that moment we wish we would have done things differently.
Most insurance companies are pushing wellness programs for member organizations. These programs are intended to educate and challenge employees to embrace a healthy lifestyle.
The incentive for the insurance companies is to improve the health of people they insure and ultimately save costs.
Organizations that incorporate employee wellness programs, not only want to save on healthcare costs, but have recognized that sick employees have a direct impact on the bottom line.
A World at Work article suggests that 24% of Canadian employers state stress and a sedentary lifestyle as a major health risk for their employees.
“With an increase in illnesses relating to both stress and sedentary lifestyles, the need for employer sponsored wellness programs is growing rapidly,” said Lori Casselman, assistant vice-president, health and wellness, group benefits at Sun Life Financial. “Employers can positively influence the health of the workplace by implementing initiatives that encourage employees to understand their current health risks, and ultimately to lead healthier lives.”
Of the organizations surveyed, 92% believe that employee health impacts corporate performance.
So if stress and sedentary lifestyle is the culprit here, what kinds of things can help improve employee health?
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, exercise and physical activity help improve all body functions and plays an important role in weight loss.
A 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans states that regular physical activity does the following:
- Improves the chances of a longer, healthier life;
- Protects from the development of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure;
- Can protect from the development of certain cancers – colon, breast, possibly lung and uterine lining cancer;
- Helps prevent type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome;
- Helps in the prevention of osteoporosis and reduces the risk of falling and improves cognitive function in the elderly;
- Relieves symptoms of anxiety and depression;
- Prevents weight gain and promotes weight loss;
- Improves heart-lung and muscle fitness as well as improves sleep.
“A CDC analysis suggests that because individuals who are physically active have significantly lower annual direct medical costs than those who are inactive, getting people to become more active could cut yearly medical costs in the US by more than $70 billion.”
Employers across the board are paying more attention to employee engagement and are working to create employee benefit packages that foster employee engagement. While many of these programs are successful, an engaged employee does not necessarily mean a healthy employee.
Employers are thinking outside the box and beginning to offer incentives to employees who take steps to improve their health.
Wellness Incentives could be things like:
- free smoking cessation program
- onsite employee gym
- lunch time walking programs
- free flu-shots
- get up and move exercise programs
- lunch and learn health topics
- blog healthy living tips
- free health screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes
- offer healthy snack options
- employer paid time off to attend health educational events
Being healthy isn’t always a choice. However learning how to maintain good health can be considered an employee benefit.
Employers of all sizes, should invest the time and resources to teaching employees how to live a healthy lifestyle. This investment will not only save on health insurance premium costs, but will also improve the productivity and engagement of your workforce.
What does your organization do to improve the health of its employees?