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The Bottom Line is the Bottom Line:
The Need for Worksite Health Promotion

Exercise Lowers Employer Health Costs

Obesity is on the rise, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes has doubled in the last 20 years, the population is getting older, and physical activity levels continue to drop. These sad facts speak to the declining health status of our country – as well as the American workforce. An unhealthy workforce should be a major concern for employers. The decline in employee health means an increase in the demand for health-care services. Health care costs continue to escalate – employer paid insurance premiums have increased by close to 1000% since 1960. Poor employee health also affects workplace productivity and morale – which also impacts the company’s bottom line.

What is Being Done?
To combat rising health-care expenses, employers are reducing the range of health benefits and increasing the employee portion of the health-care premiums. While these changes may have some short-term impact on the financial burden associated with health care, the changes do not address the fundamental issues responsible for the problem or offer a long-term solution for expensive health care.

What Needs to Happen?
To substantially reduce health-care costs, the employer needs to have a healthy workforce. Our population is getting sick primarily due to the fact that we are making unhealthy decisions. Close to 80% of the diseases suffered by Americans are directly related to lifestyle choices. People are making poorly informed choices regarding nutritional habits, physical activity, use of alcohol and drugs, and other areas. Their choices are resulting in a decline in their health and an increase in health-care costs. If the workforce were given the tools, strategies, and opportunities to make healthier decisions, the likelihood of disease and related costs would be reduced. The need for health-promotional programs and preventive services has never been greater.

Does It Pay Off?
When it comes to health care, prevention is generally less expensive than the “cure.” Far fewer health dollars are necessary to maintain health than the amount of money required to treat a medical condition once it has developed. Enough studies have been conducted to safely say that well-designed wellness programs can save a company money. Steelcase, Incorporated reports a 55% lower medical claim rate for employees who use their fitness services. As a result of a two-year 5-phase health promotion program, Dupont reduced the number of employee sick days by 12.1 %, lowered the number of physician visits by 6.6%, and dropped their medical costs 32%. A comprehensive review of the research (S.G. Aldana, American Journal of Health Promotion, 2001) found that for every wellness dollar spent, there is an average savings (due to health-care cost savings and absenteeism reduction) of $4.30.

Not convinced yet of the need for worksite health promotion programs? Let’s take a little different angle. Bob Farrell is a customer service expert, a highly sought-after speaker who has worked with corporations such as NIKE, Nordstrom’s, and Safeway. In his book “Give’em The Pickle...and they’ll be back!” Mr. Farrell explains that taking care of the customer is the most important factor for the success for any business. The second most important factor is valuing the employees. Mr. Farrell writes, “Nothing empowers employees more than a belief that they’re valued by their boss – or those they work for. EMPLOYEES MUST KNOW THEY MATTER.” What could possibly mean more to an employee than to have an employer who is concerned about their health?

How Do You Make It Work?
Effective worksite wellness programs do not happen by accident. There are specific steps that need to be taken during the planning and implementation of wellness programs. Not all programs are created equal. The most effective health promotion programs include the following strategy points.

Strategy Point: Program Depth and Breadth
Changing health behaviors is best accomplished if the wellness program has multiple levels of intervention (depth). The levels of intervention should include 1) Awareness Programs - e.g. newsletters, wellness alerts, payroll inserts, 2) Assessment Programs - e.g. cancer screening, fitness testing, computerized nutritional analysis, 3) Educational Efforts - e.g. wellness seminars, CPR classes, nutritional counseling, and 4) Support Systems - e.g. healthy food choices in cafeteria/vending machines, exercise facilities, smoke-free policy. The breadth of the wellness program has to do with the specific health issues addressed within the program. The broader the program mix – the greater the employee participation rate. Companies may want to start with the most urgent health issues (as identified in the Assessment Program) and work toward adding other health issues into the mix.

Strategy Point: Make Wellness the Cultural Norm
Just as “hustle and customer service” are cultural norms at all Les Schwab Tire stores, wellness can become the “norm” within any business. A high degree of importance must be placed on employee health by the entire management staff. When specific efforts are made to promote the health of the employees, in time, good health will become the cultural norm – the standard of behavior. Some of these efforts could include incentive programs, on-site fitness equipment, employee assistance programs, cafeteria programs, and ongoing wellness seminars.

Strategy Point: Include Demand Management Strategies
Demand management strategies, also called “risk” or “disease” management strategies, use patient decision-making programs to help people know when they should seek medical advice and what they can do to treat illness and injuries. Personal care wellness talks and self-care books can be utilized to reduce unnecessary medical visits and cut medical costs.

Strategy Point: Think ROI - Invest in Prevention
As mentioned earlier, prevention is cheaper than treatment – but it is not without cost. Employers must recognize the long-term benefits and cost savings on their upfront expense. All companies want to see a positive return on investment (ROI). Appropriately designed and implemented worksite health promotion programs will achieve this goal.

Strategy Point: Top Management Support
The most successful worksite health promotion programs ALL have one basic element in common – support of top management. Not only does upper administration have to be willing to fund the wellness programs, they must also show support by communicating the importance of the program to the workforce, allow employees to gain access to the various activities, instruct middle managers to strongly encourage employee participation, and actively participate themselves.

Worksite Health Promotion: The need is great – the time is now – the return is huge.

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