Healthier Employees Make for a Wealthier Bottom Line

Employee Wellness

A 2001 Gallup poll found that Americans who are obese or have chronic health problems cost their employers an estimated $153 billion per year in lost productivity. As the prevalence of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic health conditions continued to rise from 1999 to 2010 (and beyond), employers are looking for ways to keep their employees physically fit. The best employee wellness initiatives are those that motivate without harming morale.

Promoting Healthy Body Weight

Obese and overweight individuals are more likely to take sick days, require more doctor visits and experience difficulty performing efficiently at work, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An effective strategy to encourage weight management is to have a friendly interoffice competition. For example, departments might compete against one another to see which can log the most exercise minutes, steps walked per day or pounds lost (following a group weigh-in, so as not to put pressure on an individual). Tying performance to monthly rewards such as an office party, financial benefit, or flex time is a great way to increase motivation.

Health Risk Assessments

Thorough health risk assessments provide information about a person’s height, weight, cholesterol, family medical history, diet, exercise routine and lifestyle choices that impact health. Encouraging employees to complete these assessments increases the likelihood they will make positive changes in their lives. Tying monetary benefits to completion of the health risk assessments can be an effective way to increase compliance. For example, Caterpillar offers employees $75 off their monthly health insurance premium if they complete a health risk assessment, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Group Stretching and Relaxation Exercises

Simply sitting at an office desk all day promotes weight gain, muscle aches and pains and other chronic health problems. To reduce problems associated with chronic back pain, consider creating education programs centered around stretching and relaxation exercises. For example, Laser Spine Institute recommends basic stretches to target the spine and associated body areas that contribute to pain. Having a morning or afternoon group stretch session is a great way to improve employee strength and reduce chronic pain associated with sedentary office life.

Mental Health Screening

Researchers exploring the contribution of health conditions to lost productivity have found that depression is the leading cause of medical costs, absenteeism and reduced productivity among American workers. However, detection of mental health problems remains low in primary care settings, meaning that many workers go undiagnosed for long periods of time. Bringing in mental health professionals to conduct brief mental health screenings is a great way for employees to learn if they might have symptoms of depression, anxiety, ADHD, unhealthy levels of stress or other mental health conditions.

Following a brief screen, the psychologists may provide tips and materials for employees to reduce their mental health symptoms and improve quality of life. For example, a 2008 study found that providing telephone therapy services to workers resulted in 2.6 more hours of productivity per week, worth approximately $1,800 per employee per year. This suggests that even brief, low-cost interventions can have significant effects on productivity and the bottom line.