Affordability. In today’s economic state, it is a term that has become more common place in business than growth and prosperity. Businesses today are asking themselves: “Can we afford advertising?; Can we afford to hire more staff?; Can we afford to keep operating at the same costs and still turn a profit?” In a time when things may be grim for a lot of businesses, the only ones that are going to survive are the ones who make an effort now to turn things around. And to turn things around they need to focus on what’s most important instead of focusing on the negative. Often, one of those overlooked items is the wellness, both financial and physical, of their business.
What exactly is wellness? Websters defines wellness as: 1) the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, esp. as the result of deliberate effort, and 2) an approach to healthcare that emphasizes preventing illness and prolonging life, as opposed to emphasizing treating diseases. Most people look at wellness simply as the absence of any apparent or disabling illness. And companies generally look at the wellness of their business from the financial side of things. How “well” is the business doing? The reality is, there is a very direct correlation between a company’s financial wellness and its physical wellness, namely the wellness of its employees. Why is wellness so important to a company and why should employers be concerned about their employees’ wellness? Here are a few statistics that put it in perspective:
- American employers lose over 300 billion dollars of productivity annually due to illness, sick days, absenteeism and sub-par performance or “presenteeism” (showing up to work but not actually doing anything productive).
- The average employee misses 8.4 days annually due to illness or injury, totaling over $63 billion nationwide.
- The employee with a serious or chronic condition (diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, cancer, etc.) misses 72 days annually, and works at diminished capacity when present.
- Nationwide, over 2.5 billion work days are reduced or lost completely. Can your business afford this reduction in productivity?
- Between the times employees spend at the doctor’s office, the time they spend out sick, and the time they are working at less than full speed, employers are losing an average of $2,000 to $2,800 per employee per year due to illnesses. These numbers do not include the healthcare costs or workers compensation costs incurred due to illness.
- For every dollar an employer spends on salaries and wages, they spend a minimum of an additional 10 cents on health insurance and workers compensation costs.
- Those who suffer from GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease) suffer decreased productivity so severely that a recent study by the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders has calculated that over $2 billion is lost in productivity each week due to the disease.
Everyone gets sick from time to time, but which would you rather have? A workforce of vital, energetic hard-working individuals focused on results and available to work when and where you need them? Or a workforce of average individuals who use up most of their sick leave, and come to work dragging their heads and underperforming? Wellness in the workplace has many benefits, and employers who have tracked their employees’ wellness, as well as those who have contributed to their employees’ wellness, have enjoyed increases in productivity, decreased healthcare costs, decreased workers compensation costs, and increased employee loyalty and higher morale.
Although good health and vitality benefit an employee in every aspect of his or her life, they also specifically benefit the employer as well. Just as investing in an employees’ training provides a better, more valuable resource, investing in their health will provide an employer with a more effective and consistently available resource. The costs of unhealthy employees can be staggering. “Soft costs” such as absenteeism and reduced productivity are calculated as costing four to seven times the amount that employers pay in health insurance premiums and workers compensation premiums combined.
The American population as a whole is sadly unhealthy. So if your employees are average, in terms of their health, they are most likely overweight, 30% of them are obese, many are at risk for or already have diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory compromise, and/or heart disease.
If you look at the life insurance weight tables, you’ll see numbers that reflect the average of what people actually weigh, which is not the same as the weights recommended as healthy. The casual observer believes that if their weight falls within those on the table, he or she must be “okay.” That is not the case. It just means that he or she is within the statistical norm. The same disconnect exists in our perception of the health of those around us (and ourselves!). We become used to what’s the norm, not what’s actually healthy, and we use “normal” as the benchmark for “healthy.” It’s not. Vitality, energy, stamina, and systemic strength are what’s healthy. Chronic disease, even low-level, missed work, repeated colds, sore throats, sinus infections, headaches, etc. are all signs of an unhealthy body and life. And they will all respond to wellness intervention if the employee is willing to participate.
Many think that other illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke are just bad luck, and it’s a shame when they happen to someone, but they can be prevented. For those who wish to take the steps, the incidence of such diseases can be radically minimized by living a fit and healthy life. Of the top six causes of death, (heart disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory disease, diabetes, accidents), five are what we call “lifestyle diseases”. This means that they are caused by a person’s lifestyle choices, at least in part, if not in whole.
From a humanitarian viewpoint, of course you would want the best for your employees, and you would want to see them free of illness and disease. However, there is also the very practical matter of your business’s bottom line that gives you a vital interest in your employees being free of disease and a wellness program quickly becomes something your company can afford not to avoid.
Featured in November 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor