Before a business should consider why a wellness program should be initiated, it should consider what may happen if it doesn't.
Just a few short years ago, health care costs for U.S. employers jumped 7 percent. In dollar terms, that translates into an average hike of $575 per employee, for an average total cost of $8,796 per employee, according to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
The impact of an unhealthy work force is hard not only on employees, but on the company's bottom line. The Mayo Clinic recommends addressing and enumerating all of the health-related costs associated with unhealthy employees. Those include direct costs, such as outpatient care, pharmacy charges, inpatient care and emergency room visits; and they include indirect costs, such as short-term disability, workers’ compensation, turnover, absenteeism and presenteeism.
Consider statistics just for the obese and smoking populations. Obesity-related medical claims account for 2.8 percent of all medical costs for adults ages 19 to 64 years old. Among overweight and obese adults, each one-unit increase in body mass index yields an additional $119.70 in medical costs and $82.60 in drug costs. Medical care charges for employees with no days of physical activity are approximately 4.7 percent higher than are charges for those who were active one day a week.
Medical charges for smokers are 18.1 percent higher than are charges for nonsmokers. Plus, smokers cost their employers $4,430/year in lost productivity costs, due to missed days and hours of work, compared with $2,623/year for nonsmokers.
To help mitigate rising costs and improve employee health, the Mayo Clinic gives five reasons why the workplace is an ideal environment for health promotion programs:
- Employees spend more than half of their waking hours at work. This makes employees a captive audience for health promotion messages. Plus, employees may be more likely to attend a health screening or educational lunch and learn session if they don’t have to spend more time away from home to do it.
- Incentives to encourage program participation work extremely well in the workplace. Mayo Clinic Health Solutions’ experience shows that a relatively small incentive, such as a $100 gift card or $240 health premium reduction, can drive high participation in health promotion programs (75 percent and 87 percent respectively), such as a health risk assessment
- Existing company systems can help facilitate health programs. Information, communication and program analysis can usually be accomplished within the existing systems and organizational structure of the work site.
- Company culture and camaraderie can help drive program success. Group initiatives, such as a population-wide walking campaign or a health risk assessment drive, can be very effective in the workplace, because friendly competition between departments or cooperation among colleagues can help drive engagement and participation.
- Health promotion programs support a consumer-driven approach to health care. Health promotion programs reinforce a consumerism health care strategy, by encouraging (and sometimes rewarding) employees for taking charge of their health. They are a natural fit with health savings accounts and other consumer-driven health plans.