Phil Castle, The Business Times
While worksite wellness programs promote healthier employees, the benefits extend beyond that immediate goal.
“This isn’t just a feel-good thing,” said Heidi Hoffman, health promotion specialist with the Mesa County Health Department.
In fact, the direct cost of lower health insurance premiums constitutes just the tip of an iceberg of such indirect costs as increased productivity and decreased absenteeism, Hoffman said. Ultimately, the health of a business depends on the health of its work force, she added.
That’s why Hoffman and Maran Parry, another health promotion specialist with the department, work with employers to help them take steps to cut direct and indirect health costs.
About 20 businesses are involved in a worksite wellness committee that meets monthly to discuss various programs and employee challenges they can implement as well as exchange ideas. More businesses are welcome to participate, Hoffman and Parry said.
Additional outreach efforts are planned once Hoffman and Parry complete work on a wellness program for county employees.
While some businesses establish sophisticated worksite wellness programs that include gym memberships, health screenings and nutrition classes, low-cost and even no-cost strategies also are available, Hoffman and Parry said. The key, Parry added, is to offer enough different opportunities to engage employees at all fitness levels.
Worksite wellness programs are important, Hoffman and Parry said, because most people spend the bulk of their waking hours on the job.
What’s more, a growing proportion of workers face health problems related to lifestyle practices, including obesity and smoking. For employers, though, the concerns involve not only the health of their employees, but rising health-related costs, they said.
Worksite wellness programs can reduce those costs, Hoffman said. “It’s a good tool for business to address these issues.”
Studies have documented the returns on investments in worksite wellness programs, Hoffman said.
By one estimate, employers save $350 a year in helping employers with low health risks stay that way and $152 a year in reducing high health risks for other employees.
While employers experience the direct cost of health issues in insurance premiums, the indirect costs related to productivity and absenteeism can be two to three times higher, Hoffman said. Even employees who show up to work don’t achieve their full potential if they’re stick or stressed out — a situation dubbed “presentism.”
From a broader perspective, a healthier work force promotes a healthier business environment and in turn a healthier economy, she said.
Encouraging worksite wellness and healthier employees starts with a commitment from business owners and managers, Hoffman said. “It comes from the top down.”
Worksite wellness efforts need not be costly, Hoffman and Parry said.
Rather than schedule meetings in which participants sit around a conference table, businesses could consider as an alternative meetings in which participants walk and talk outside. Rather than serve doughnuts or cakes at special events, serve such healthier alternatives as fruit smoothies. Smart phone applications are available to promote worksite wellness, including simple reminders to drink water and take a break to stretch.
Some businesses encourage wellness by supporting participation in benefit walks and runs.
Hoffman said it’s important for employees to realize health and fitness aren’t all-or-nothing propositions and they can take small steps to make a difference. “Wherever you are in our life, there’s a place you can go to be healthier.”
For your information: For more information about the worksite wellness committee or other resources to promote worksite wellness, send an e-mail to Heidi Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org or Maran Perry at email@example.com. Information and resources also are available online from the Wellness Councils of America website at www.welcoa.org.