Small business and public health sectors a profitable partnership

Katie Smith
Katie Smith

While you might not immediately pair small business and public health as collaborators, the two sectors inform and benefit each other.

Every business leaves a mark on health. The products, services and policies of a business have the potential to help or hinder the health and well-being of employees, the community and environment. Many businesses take pride in workplace wellness programs and find that putting in place healthier policies improve profitability and reputation. Businesses benefit from public health activities and can help address public health issues. Working together, the two sectors can maximize reach and improve health.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, nearly 63 percent of Americans age 16 and over are part of the work force, making the workplace an ideal setting to focus on health and well-being. Most people spend the majority of their waking hours at work. Moreover, poor health habits take a toll on businesses.

Ohio State University found that workers who smoke cost their employers on average $5,800 a year, the biggest costs coming from lost productivity due to smoke breaks, followed by health care expenses. Studies by the Centers for Disease Control show overweight employees combine for an estimated $153 billion in lost productivity from absenteeism each year. Alarmingly, only 22 percent of the work force is engaged at work. Disengaged workers affect customer service, turnover and profitability. For these reasons and others, employers have a vested interest in making health-related issues a priority in the workplace.

Building a healthy work force and community makes for healthier businesses, too. Small investments in health within the workplace yield big returns. By one estimate,  every $1 invested in worksite wellness returns as much as $6, improving the lives of employees while lowering costs for employers. Organizations viewed as “inspiring healthy choices” have engagement levels as high as 80 percent. From a business perspective, even a 1 percent reduction in health risks could save employers as much as $100 annually per person in medical costs.

Promoting health in the workplace affords an opportunity to address multiple risk factors and health conditions at the same time. Here are two strategies employers in Mesa County should consider to promote health:

Establish an environment of health: Foster a culture in the workplace that incorporates health and is employee-centered. In building a healthy environment in the workplace, efforts should integrate into the natural flow of the business routine and align with the overall goals of the business. Employers can change the work environment by providing healthy food options in vending machines and at meetings, organizing walking meetings, offer discounted gym memberships and partnering with local agencies to help the community better support physical activity and alternative transportation.

Power in health policy: Health policies offer a collaborative approach to improving the health of all people by incorporating health considerations into the decision-making process across sectors. By shifting workplace norms and adopting policies that encourage healthy behaviors, employers can reach more individuals and make it easier for them to alter habits. Businesses can also back local public health promoted policies to further the reach of initiatives. A good example of a health policy would be to create a tobacco-free workplace. Support policies that prohibit smoking in the business or add smoking cessation programs as a health benefit.

Public health and business have a shared interest in ensuring a healthy population. Effective workplace programs and policies reduce health risks and improve the quality of life for employees and our community. A healthy workforce leads to a healthy bottom line.