Health and Fitness: A Company's BEST Investment

Mention investing and most people think you were going to talk to them about money. When it comes to investing in our health however, very few get excited about the prospect and the return on investment (ROI) seldom makes the headlines in The Wall Street Journal. As is apparent by the state of our national health, very few are making the investment. So why should your company, or any company for that matter, invest in a health and wellness program for its employees? Following are three big reasons why your company simply can’t afford not to.

Reason #1 – Obese workers cost employers more through both absenteeism and presenteeism.

A study conducted by Duke University found the following results after investigating eight years of data from 11,728 Duke employees.

• Overweight workers are more injury prone than fit co-workers. Furthermore, these injuries occur in the knees, neck, back, shoulders, arms, hips, and wrists, causing debilitating conditions that limit worker productivity (presenteeism) and dependability (absenteeism).

• Overweight workers have higher health care costs than their fit co-workers due to the various obesity related illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, overuse injuries, etc.

• Obese workers cost more in injury claims as they have twice the rate of worker’s compensation claims than their fit co-workers.

• The most overweight workers had 13 times more lost workdays due to work related injury and their medical claims for those injuries were 7 times higher than that of their fit co-workers.

• The lack of solution to the obesity epidemic in America which is flooding the workplace could also result in unwanted complaints of discrimination by obese workers.

Reason #2 – Behavior is the determining factor in the overall health and life expectancy of your employees.

According to the Institute for Health and Productivity Management (IHPM), health and longevity can be attributed to following factors: 40 percent is behavior, such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption, nutritional habits, MDD, etc. (MDD stands for movement deficit disorder. Can you believe that?); 30 percent is genetics; 20 percent is environmental; 10 percent is health care delivery. This sedentary lifestyle simply cripples the American workforce and right now it is crippling your company. Though MDD may not be as deadly as cancer in the short term, it leads to a slow, steady decay of the human mind and body that leads to a host of diminishing health factors. That eventually leads people to their graves (e.g. diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, degenerative muscles, and or joints, etc.)

The IHPM reports that the focus on health care alone has failed and this is clearly supported by the percentages above as health care delivery is the least important factor to longevity.  It couldn’t be more obvious than ever. Employers must seek to modify the behavior of their employees if they want to be a competitive force in today’s marketplace. 

Reason #3 – Employee presenteeism is a harsh reality that costs employers money.

According to Sean Sullivan, the CEO of IHPM, companies have focused solely on absenteeism for far too long because it only affects the production worker. In other words, with our advancements in technology, knowledge workers are usually able to complete their duties even if they are not at the work place. This is something that cannot be said for the production worker whose duties stem solely around their physical presence on a production line.

Sullivan claims that though absenteeism is a part of the puzzle, presenteeism is the real concern when it comes to a company’s bottom line, for it captures the loss of employee functionality (and the resulting diminished productivity) while at work due to health issues.  In other words, your employees may actually be at work, but if there physical and mental health is diminishing then their quality and output of work is suffering. Furthermore, because the knowledge worker depends solely on “brain power” vs. “physical ability,” the declining mental health so characteristic of presenteeism seriously hampers their activity.

Sullivan believes that instead of focusing on what is broken, companies must seek to prevent the breaking in the first place. Furthermore, due to the rapid aging of the American workforce with baby boomers aging into retirement with chronic health issues, we cannot afford our current health care system. He describes the baby boomers leaving the workplace (75 million people) with the birth-death generation behind them (45 million total). This will result in a potential gap of several tens of millions of middle-aged skill workers over the course of the next ten years.  Thus companies must focus on ways to keep their employees as healthy and productive as possible to stay above the red line.  Sullivan encourages employers to embrace the human capital model to overcome this trend. People are appreciable assets, unlike machines, so we need to invest in them by implementing a corporate health and wellness program.

For businesses, the real value of health is in performance at work versus health care costs. Most attempts to capture the impact of employee health in the workplace have focused on Return on investment (ROI) versus Burden of Illness (BOI), due to the fact that it is much easier concept to calculate. However, increased BOI (presenteeism) has a much greater impact than rising medical costs, for it reduces functionality of the employee and costs the company money before an employee ever makes it to the doctor’s office. Companies must help their employees avoid the pitfalls of the current “symptom management” approach of American health care by providing its own form of preventative population health management for its employees. This is why corporate wellness is the future NOW!

The bottom line when it comes to your company’s bottom line is that a leaner employee is a better employee. By taking the lead in implementing a population health management program for your employees your company will be recognized as an innovative leader in the future of the American corporation.