By James Polfreman
I’ve heard it said “health affects work, and work affects health.” But employee health is vastly underrated in many organizations across the country. Even the employee population of many wellness and health care businesses—the industry that should be healthiest of all—is representative of the general population. Some are overweight, some have physical conditions, and some are on regular medication for a variety of issues, including pain, hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes, to name a few.
The fact remains that many chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, are preventable and often linked to lifestyle choices, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In business, “employee wellness” has a dual impact. Of course wellness is a cost to the individual employee. Just one major health event can lead to a whole chain of difficulties for an individual and his or her family, from emotional challenges to the logistical nightmares of caregiving through injury or illness, all on top of loss of income, loss of home, bankruptcy and a host of other personal trials.
But employee health also has major ramifications for the company, and the cost of ignoring wellness outweighs the expense of providing benefits. Poor employee wellness cuts into the overall bottom line, leading to higher insurance premiums, more sick days, lost productivity and tapped short-term disability coverage. For these reasons, employee wellness is no longer a human resource issue, but rather a broader business issue.
I recommend leadership teams become strategic and intentional about developing robust wellness programs. We all pay lip service to the importance of employee wellness – here are six ways to “put your money where your mouth is.”
Setting the Example
An organizational focus on health starts at the top, in the c-suite. If team members know leaders take time out to focus on exercise, wellness and healthy choices, they are more apt to model those behaviors in their own lives. It’s not about “do as I say,” but rather, “do as I do,” and positive example setting and reinforcement at all levels of the company.
Health insurance offerings for full-time employees are a given, but organizations can go a step further and create health insurance plans that put a meaningful emphasis on wellness. For example, start with an annual wellness exam for each employee (and his or her covered family members) that covers key health areas, such as body mass index, blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol. Each score that falls in the positive, “healthy” range earns cash deposits into the employee’s health savings account (HSA). These dollars can be used for copays, prescriptions or to offset the annual deductible, and they can add up to significant dollars—in some cases, up to $1,000 per individual or $2,000 per household.
What’s more, the company can track the overall health of its employees. Of course, per HIPAA terms, no individual details are released, but the leadership can see if wellness is improving on the whole by observing aggregate participation, scores and results over time.
The trends in wellness data can help organizations identify ways to further improve health coverage for employees. For example, if chronic blood pressure or cholesterol issues are common, the company may add a benefit that covers the cost of generic statins at 100 percent. Understanding that for some, not even diet or exercise can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, the organization has recognized the financial burden many employees face and offered support for a health issue that might be beyond the control of any given employee—while still allowing them the opportunity to improve their personal health.
Across America, obesity continues to be a major risk factor for chronic health conditions, and it should remain a high-priority issue for any corporate wellness program. As people mature, obesity becomes a greater challenge, and for team members who are on their feet all day long, being overweight can cause lower back issues and knee or joint pain.
Consequently, smart organizations put a lot of focus on weight loss and healthy living. For example, a policy can prohibit funding any kind of meal that isn’t healthy for team members. Instead of purchasing sodas for events, provide water. For meals or snacks during large company meetings, provide healthy choices instead of fast food. This is often more expensive in the short run, but it leads to cost savings for everyone in the long run.
A combination of company-provided fitness trackers and sponsored programs that encourage healthy competition can work wonders for overall employee health. There are countless corporate success stories of employees losing weight and achieving exceptional improvement in daily exercise habits through monthly step count competitions or online fitness challenges. While not everyone loses weight, there are many mental health improvements that come from a change in attitude, mobility and a general sense of wellbeing.
And, Of Course, Breast Health
As October is Breast Cancer awareness month, we would be remiss not to mention the importance of getting an annual mammogram beginning at age forty.
While there is no cure for breast cancer today, mammography remains our best defense. According to the American Cancer Society, when breast cancer is detected early (at stage zero or stage one), the five-year survival rate is close to 100 percent. So regular mammography offers not only long-term, life saving benefits but even short-term quality of life improvements. The earlier a woman finds any breast health issue, the better her opportunity to avoid more invasive (and expensive) treatments like chemotherapy or mastectomies.
The bottom line is healthy living is good for individual employees and for business. It’s a true win-win, and it’s a no-brainer for a company to invest in the very people that make it successful. Whatever your industry, be in the business of wellness, empowerment and accountability for employee health. All involved will reap the benefits.
James Polfreman is CEO and president of Solis Mammography. Headquartered in Addison, Solis operates forty-four centers across six major markets, serving more than 700,000 patients each year