Who are the enlightened and sophisticated employers? According to Andy Webber, President of the National Business Coalition on Health, they are the employers who “see health management not as an operating cost but an investment in workforce health and productivity.”#
Dee W. Edington wrote Zero Trends with the purpose of demonstrating that the improved health status of employees will not only reduce healthcare costs for the company, but also increase performance and productivity in the workplace. His book is about a new model of healthcare that defines healthcare as a combination of illness and wellness strategies that affect the bottom line of organizations far beyond simply striving to reduce the cost of insurance premiums. He contends “health management is a health strategy, but equally important, health management is a business and economic strategy.”#
Avowing the cost of health is less than the cost of disease, Edington maintains that an unhealthy workforce cost an organization more than just the expense of treating illness. The cost of poor health hits employers through absences, short-term disabilities, workers” compensation, and ineffectiveness on the job and impact on co-workers. Only when we grasp these outcomes of poor health can we understand the total value of health.
In order to honestly grapple with the findings of Edington and the University of Michigan”s Health Management Center, there has to first be an upgrade to the definition of health. Most define health as “the absence of disease.”# However, a much stronger definition of health is “energy and vitality.”# Employers don”t simply want employees who are staying out of the hospital. Rather, they want employees who are energized, engaged and thriving in the workplace.
What can an organization do increase its chances of maintaining a healthy workforce?
1. Focus on helping the healthy to stay healthy. As Dr. Brent Pawlecki affirms, “It”s very difficult to bring someone from an unhealthy risk score to a healthy score. It”s much easier to keep someone healthy.”#
2. Create a work environment that is conducive to health. Edington shares “the way to keep people healthy is to first create a facilitating environment and then provide employees with the resources to change the behaviors that threaten their health.”#
3. Create a Culture of health led by the organization”s top leadership. It has been said that being healthy isn”t the result of luck, it”s a choice. The same can be said of the health of an organization”s workforce. It is a choice and it is a choice that has to be made at the top.
4. Develop wellness plans that lead to optimal results. Many organizations have some type of wellness program. Yet, not all wellness programs are created or executed equally. One study suggest that less than 5% of wellness programs incorporate the range of best practices that are known to bring optimal results.
Successful organizations of the future will move beyond simply finding the best benefit plan and insurance policies. While a common historical trend among employers is to let the employees bear the blunt of all cost savings in regards to insurance premiums, these maligned strategies only provide temporary relief to, what Edington calls, “a terrible day of financial reckoning.”# Any healthcare strategy short of maintaining a healthy workforce is doomed to fail.
Jack W. Bruce, Jr., is Chief Operating Officer for BIS Benefits, an employee benefits firm serving 275 small businesses in metro Atlanta. Jack and his family have resided in Gwinnett County since 1999. For more information on how to incorporate a wellness strategy into your benefits plan for your organization you may contact Jack via LinkedIn or Twitter (jackwbruce).