You’ve all heard the saying “mad as a hatter”. Well that comes from the fact that hatters, people who used to make felt hats in the 19th century were exposed to mercury based compounds and quite often died due to mercury poisoning. Mercury attacks the nervous system causing emotional instability (thus the “mad” reference) and adversely affects digestion causing vomiting, diarrhea, and possible kidney failure.
Today there are many dangerous jobs. Coal mining, firefighting, law enforcement to name just a few. We count on dangerous industries to have policies in place to protect their workers and make their jobs as safe as possible. But the majority of us work in the government, offices, schools and shops, which are not considered dangerous jobs at all.
Employee costs are often the biggest part of most businesses budgets. Now that we have so much invested in the people we hire to help our business be profitable and grow, it is in our best interest to consider our employee’s health and well-being. So what policies and practices do we use to keep our workforce not only safe but how do we promote wellness?
What exactly is “wellness”?
According to dictionary.com: well·ness
the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort.
an approach to healthcare that emphasizes preventing illness and prolonging life, as opposed to emphasizing treating diseases.
So, wellness is stopping disease and illness before it claims our employees. How as employers do we accomplish that?
First, we want to get a feel for where our workforce is now on the wellness scale. We can easily establish a base line by having our employees take a health assessment questionnaire. This will allow us as an employer to look at the overall picture of our population, spot trends, see problem areas where possibly many of our employees are struggling.
There are many companies who can provide you with a HRA (health risk appraisal). Online research should give you some options to price out.
Or you can hire a company that will provide basic screening such as blood pressure, cholesterol numbers, and glucose numbers. Generally a wellness screening company will send a nurse out to your work site who will take height and weight figures, perform an accurate blood pressure reading, and draw any labs that you are interested in.
Most physicians can easily run blood work at a well visit checkup. If your health insurance allows your employees a free well checkup you may want to take advantage of this for obtaining the desired information for your health assessment questionnaire, since it is already included in your insurance premiums.
Next, we want to interpret our results. Now that all of our employees have taken a health risk appraisal we can identify trends that are affecting the overall group. Most health risk assessments will provide group reporting this allows an employer to view the overall group data. Only invest in an assessment that allows you to do this. Specific individual data is private but aggregate data will help you spot problem areas within your organization.
As an example, from your specific aggregate data you can determine if you workforce is overweight, affected by diabetes, or addicted to smoking.
Finally, it is time to start some wellness programs. For instance, let’s say you review your data and find that 33% of your workforce is still smoking.
Remember, wellness is preventing disease and minimizing health risks.
So you may want to invest in a smoking cessation program. The diseases smoking causes start to diminish immediately once you quit. Isn’t that great? You are now proactive, helping your employees get healthy.
Wellness programs are out there, if you have a human resource department they can do a lot of the leg work to find appropriate programs. Some health risk assessment software companies will provide online links to each employee according to their risks. This is customized information just for them. This information often comes from government and non-profit organizations that are not trying to make money off of your employees they just help them improve their health. Many of the government sites provide free publications that can be ordered or printed. And there are also companies that can do all this for you. There are wellness coaches and corporate wellness solution companies that specialize in improving your employee health. They can teach classes and provide resources.
You may be able to tackle weight issues on your own. If you discover that many of your employees are dealing with overweight issues a solution may be as easy as removing the candy machine from the break room or switching out the candy choices with healthier items.
Another approach is to start a weight loss contest. Break your employees into groups. Have each group weigh in. Then the group that loses the highest percentage of weight after a designated amount of time wins a prize. In order for this to work, the prize needs to be something that will motivate your employees. The neat thing about this is it builds teamwork and it provides everyone with a weight loss buddy. Research has shown that outcomes improve when you have partner.
Will this save me the employer any money?
Probably not initially, look the cost of healthcare is outrageous and at this time even with Obama care no one is predicting a reduction in health care premiums. You are probably going to have to continue to shop around for a new health insurance policy every few years in order to keep costs from escalating out of your budget.
What are the advantages to investing even more money into the health and wellness of my employees?
Employers who are still able to offer health care will have an advantage over those who can no longer afford it. You are going to look more attractive to potential employees. You should be able to hire the best.
Your employees will show up to work more often. Sick days taken by employees affect productivity and your bottom line. If you have people who can’t show up for work that puts extra burden on their co-workers which can lead to burn out and frustration. An unhappy workforce is not in your best interest. Maximum productivity and people glad to be at work is what you are aiming for.
Insurance claims do affect your insurance premiums. And this trend is going to continue and may get worse. A healthy workforce could lower your insurance premiums. There is already talk that people who smoke will be paying more for health insurance as more of the Obama Care kicks in.
You can’t replace knowledge. Some of your best employees are the ones who have been around for a long time. The knowledge that comes with that longevity is priceless. The guy or gal who lived through the changes in your industry, worked in lots of different departments, or is now the head of one of your departments is irreplaceable. These are the people that can answer the day to day questions, know where to go to get things done, and can provide vital training to your new recruits. You want to keep these people as long as possible. They are the backbone of your business. If you keep them healthy long enough they will train their own replacements before they consider retirement.
In most industries your employees are your biggest operating expense. Safe guarding this important asset should not be overlooked.
Good employees are:
Hard to find
Costly to train
Important to keep
By helping our employees improve their wellness we are also improving our businesses.
A final note, you need to go back one year from your original health risk assessment and have your employees take another one. Then you need to compare your aggregate data from the first assessment to the second. This will allow you to see if your health risks are decreasing and your wellness scores increasing. Have any of the programs you attempted worked? You must evaluate what you have tried to do over the last year. Remember wellness is working towards preventing illness and prolonging life it is a journey not a destination.