May 22, 2018
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Wellness works

By Jaime Laliberte , Special to the BDN

Employee health promotion. Worksite wellness. Health and productivity management. Whatever you call it, it is more than a passing fancy and the dire state of health and healthcare in the United States is making it a necessity. If you aren’t doing it yet, you’re thinking about it. If you aren’t thinking about it, it’s time to start.

Before I tell you its benefits, let me briefly explain WHY we need to address employee health.

Fact: Although we spend more money than any other industrialized nation, US citizens are not the world’s healthiest.

  • 1 out of 4 adults smoke
  • 1 out of 3 adults have high blood pressure
  • 2 out of 3 adults are overweight
  • 3 out of 4 adults fail to get enough exercise
  • 4 out of 5 adults need to significantly improve their diets

Fact: Much of the illness in the US is preventable.

  • Preventable illness makes up about 70% of the burden of illness and associated costs
  • Behavioral issues represent the greatest single domain of influence on the health of the US population
  • 30% to 60% of health plan costs could be modified or avoided altogether

Fact: We spent 7 times more on health care in 2003 than in 1980.

Fact: Medical care costs consume corporate profits and employee paychecks.

Approximately 65% of the nation’s people over age 18 are employed. The average work week is close to 50 hours. The workplace is where we do the majority of our social networking and learning. When we combine that information with the statistics above, the case for workplace wellness is compelling. When implemented appropriately, worksite health promotion can provide a variety of benefits.

Lowered health and disability costs: We can’t predict or control what will happen with community rating, healthcare reform or health insurance. In the meantime, know that you are planning for the future, your employees will spend less on health care and your disability costs can be impacted with a quality health initiative in place.

Commitment to establish health AND safety as priorities: Safety is a no-brainer now, but what were we doing 60 years ago? We were climbing the sides of buildings to wash windows with no personal protective equipment! In similar fashion, costs will continue to drive us to improve employee health until we see a cultural shift that parallels what happened with safety.

Increased quality of health for employees: If you create a quality program and the opportunity to become involved, those that participate can have better health and a higher quality life experience. Reduced absenteeism: Establish and promote a clear policy for sick time versus flex time and classify days off. You will see a decrease in illness and injury-related absences.

Improved employee morale and positive employee relations: Don’t underestimate this “soft” benefit of employee wellness, particularly in the current economy. You’re doing a good thing for your employees. Make no mistake, some will be irritated by the notion of promoting health at work, but the majority will be appreciative and some will even be thrilled.

Higher productivity and decreased presenteeism: If you are unfamiliar with the term “presenteeism,” learn it! Presenteeism is being physically at work, but not working: the long haul trucker with back pain that results in frequent extra stops or inattention due to discomfort; the employee with poorly managed diabetes frequently suffering from symptoms resulting from blood sugar swings; the accountant with severe neck pain and headaches during a long and stressful tax season – each of them would spend more time actually WORKING at work if they were healthier. If you think Facebook cuts down on productivity, it’s got nothing on health conditions! Healthy employees are happier, more engaged and more productive.

If you’re still skeptical, consider these statistics, pulled from the 2009 article “Proof Positive,” written by Dr. David Hunnicutt, President of the Wellness Council of America:

• There are 400 individual studies that prove worksite wellness programs will, in fact, impact health behavior and risks.

• ROI on a very basic health promotion effort is $3 : $1 with an expected return within about 18 months.

• Newer prevention technologies offered in Health and Productivity Management can yield an ROI of $6 : $1 or higher

Whether you have two, 200, or 2000 employees, it is time to put workplace health on your radar. We can’t predict the future of employee health, health insurance or healthcare reform, but we CAN hedge our bets on the power of prevention. You wouldn’t operate machinery essential for your business that hasn’t been maintained for maximum performance and longevity, right? Your employees are your greatest asset. It is time to take care of them.

Jaime Laliberte is the Executive Director of the Wellness Council of Maine. Learn more about this non-profit organization at

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