What is Employee Health?
Put simply, employee health is the foundation of your businesses. As an employer, providing your employees with tools to manage and improve their health is not just the right thing to do, it’s a winning business strategy. When employee health and wellbeing programs were just getting off the ground, early studies found that medical costs drop by $3.27 and absenteeism costs fall $2.73 for every dollar companies invest in wellness programs. Now, we know that employee health impacts so much more than the bottom line. It has far-reaching influence across an entire organization — from direct and indirect healthcare savings, to individual health and performance improvements, to meaningful business outcomes like lower turnover, a great company culture and engaged employees.
How Does Employee Health Affect Your Business?
Employee health has been top of mind for many U.S. employers simply because the cost of healthcare has skyrocketed. Research from the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust found that the average cost of health insurance premiums for a family of four has shot up 69% in the last 10 years and now runs around $16,834. At the same time, employee contributions have risen by 81%, and in many mid-size and large companies, worker contributions to employer-sponsored coverage increased from $2,194 in 1999 to $6,353 in 2014.
But we know that there’s a lot more to it than just healthcare costs. Employee health affects everything from workplace culture, absenteeism, performance and productivity, to workplace health and safety and everything in between. Ultimately, healthy people are happier, more productive and less prone to accidents on the job than those who aren’t in good health.
Employers across the globe have started turning to employee wellness programs to combat churn, chronic conditions, stress and burnout, and low engagement levels, among many other challenges facing today’s workplace. And rising healthcare costs are no longer just a problem for American businesses. Global healthcare spending is expected to rise 5% over the next four years.
We also know that flagging health may lead to worker disengagement. And a disengaged team can be an expensive team. The Engagement Institute — a joint study by The Conference Board, Sirota-Mercer, Deloitte, ROI, The Culture Works and Consulting LLP — reports that disengaged workers are costing American companies $550 billion a year. This reflects a larger, global trend. AON’s annual engagement report found that only 27% of people worldwide are highly engaged at work.
Employee health initiatives like workplace wellbeing programs, corporate challenges or onsite health coaching are poised to not just counteract these bottom-line issues but turn employee health into a winning business strategy.
What Are the Most Effective Ways to Improve Employee Health?
Clients that use Virgin Pulse as their trusted Homebase for HealthTM help their employees get healthy and stay healthy, and they save an average of $1029 on healthcare per employee per year. To see these types of results, an integrated wellbeing program run on a powerful, easy-to-use platform is a great place to start, but it can’t consist of a set-it-and-forget initiative with a round of awards at the end of the year. Companies only realize meaningful employee health outcomes when they create a culture of overall wellbeing with a holistic, person-first approach to health and wellness. Here are some ways to accomplish this.
Promote Physical Fitness and Nutrition
Employees who move more, work better and cost their companies less. A study of General Motors employees revealed that moderately active and very active employees paid $250 less in healthcare costs on average than inactive employees, even when accounting for variations in weight and BMI. In fact, the study concluded that getting inactive employees to work out once a week or more could save companies 1.5% of their healthcare budget. Walking clubs, workplace challenges, health coaching for lifestyle management or onsite fitness centers can all contribute to getting your team members active and helping them stick with their physical fitness commitments.
Exercise may be the closest thing science has found to an elixir of youth, but everyone can benefit from a healthy, balanced diet too. Since most adults spend many of their waking hours in the workplace, encouraging healthy eating on the job can go a long way. Opt for healthy snacks or onsite food offerings, convenient water stations, educational opportunities and a positive attitude to encourage healthy eating in the workplace.
Create a Workplace That Supports Mental Health
Employee health initiatives often target physical health, but mental wellness is equally important. Mentally healthy employees are engaged, positive and alert people who contribute to their workplace mission. They’re also resilient and better equipped to deal with change or workplace stress. Unfortunately, even healthy, mentally well employees can be at-risk for developing mental health conditions down the road if things like high stress levels are left unmanaged over a long period of time.
A robust wellbeing platform that offers a variety of mental wellbeing programs is a very effective way to support employees, but there are other, small things you can do to support overall employee health and encourage mental wellness in the workplace. Access to natural light, quiet break areas, supportive managers, or simply encouraging your employees to use all their earned vacation time can contribute to a mentally healthy work environment. Employee assistance programs can also provide an initial level of support and help to prevent costly medical claims or office visits.
Chronic Condition Management
Unfortunately, a large number of today’s workforce lives with one or many chronic conditions. Their impact can be seen in a variety of ways. The CDC estimate that chronic conditions cost U.S. employers $36.4 billion annually, mainly from absenteeism. Worldwide, 7 in 10 deaths can be attributed to chronic conditions. Heart disease, musculoskeletal disorders like arthritis, diabetes and cancer are just a few of the chronic conditions that can show up in the workplace.
Because chronic conditions affect so many people, employee health initiatives would be falling short if they didn’t account for condition management. Health coaching, smoking cessation programs, biometric screening stations and health risk assessments are all great ways to augment a traditional employee wellbeing program and reach those employee populations who may be more at-risk for or living with chronic conditions.
Take a Holistic Approach to Employee Health
Our health is interconnected. Changing one thing can create a ripple effect in other areas of our lives. That’s why the most effective wellbeing programs address all areas of employee health. A robust set of offerings — for physical, mental, financial, social health and everything in between — ensures that your people can find the right resources at the right time.