To us, it’s a very simple equation. Great companies are built on great people. But if these same people are not in good physical, mental or social health, they can’t function optimally. They are no longer fully productive, focused or engaged. They are typically absent more often. And we know that poor health leads to higher utilization of employee benefits, so this also results in higher costs to employers.
The data is compelling. Over 70% of health benefits costs are driven by chronic illnesses whose risk factors are modifiable. As an example, Type 2 diabetes is 80% modifiable through diet, exercise and smoking cessation. Encouraging education and positive lifestyle changes is the first step to supporting an employee with a chronic illness, and avoiding these downstream costs.
So let’s assume for a moment that we are in agreement, that we understand it is simply good business to support the health of our employees. Wouldn’t it be great to shift the attention to what really matters then? How can we—as providers, as an industry—support employers in providing the best health plans, the best wellness programs?
We need to start by recognizing that when it comes to their health journeys, organizations are at different stages of execution, and as a result, have different priorities. There is a tremendous difference between general wellness & lifestyle management, and chronic disease management programs. Both can be offered in the workplace and both can be highly effective. However, it is critical that employers understand their goals in order to choose the right offerings and drive the right business outcomes. This is where the magic really happens. Organizations that are looking to recruit great people, drive engagement and create a positive corporate culture as their primary or immediate objectives, should make wellness & lifestyle programs a first-order priority. Typical initiatives can include healthy snacks and meals, health challenges, group exercise classes, massage programs or charitable activities.
Companies that are at a later stage in their strategy, and are looking to minimize health risks—and the subsequent health costs—need to look at more targeted risk identification and chronic disease management. Online or onsite targeted risk screenings and health assessment programs can be an excellent starting point. Once identified, targeting risks by providing support with personalized coaching programs, as well as access to health practitioners with expertise in a particular condition can positively impact an individual’s health, and subsequently, on organizational cost management.
I have always believed that the workplace can have a tremendous impact on health—either positive, or negative. This means companies have an enormous opportunity. They can let workplace health fall to the wayside—and watch their business fall behind too. Or they can align workplace wellness efforts with their company values, and use the tools they have to drive better outcomes.