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Susquehanna Life

Business Strategies - Workplace Wellness

Oct 13, 2014 07:10PM ● By Erica Shames

Over the last several decades, an epidemic of “lifestyle diseases” has developed in the United States. The cost of treating chronic disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accounts for over 75 percent of national health expenditures. To counteract the impact of chronic disease on employee health and wellbeing, the cost of health care coverage and competitiveness, employers are adopting workplace wellness programs.

Is a Workplace Wellness Program Right for Your Business?

 Unhealthy lifestyles, including inactivity, poor nutrition, tobacco use and frequent alcohol consumption, are driving up the prevalence of chronic disease, such as diabetes, heart disease and chronic pulmonary conditions. These chronic conditions lead to decreased quality of life, premature death and disability, and increased health care cost. Once thought of as a problem of older age groups, chronic disease onset now occurs in people of working age, adding to the economic burden due to illness-related loss of productivity as a result of absence from work (absenteeism) and reduced performance while at work (presenteeism).

Results from a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found that indirect costs (e.g. days missed at work) were approximately four times higher for individuals with chronic disease than for those without. And a report released by the Milken Institute estimated that the indirect costs of these illnesses were higher than the direct health care costs to treat chronic disease.

Participation in a wellness program over five years is associated with a trend toward lower health care costs and decreasing health care use. The average annual difference, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is estimated to be $157 per employee.

Jorjia Clinger, board certified in wellness, life and career coaching, offers these insights on the value of workplace wellness programs. 

Susquehanna Life Magazine: Why is it important for companies to address the health of their employees?

Jorjia Clinger: Unhealthy employees present a number of issues for the employer. First, sick employees can add to ever-increasing healthcare costs. Second, absenteeism and presenteeism can affect a company’s bottom line. 

SLM: Specifically, how does this play out in the workplace?

JC: An employee who takes sick leave and is not on the job is self-explanatory, but how about the employee who is at his or her desk but is too obese/tired/unmotivated to retrieve documents from the copier and enlists the help of another to retrieve it. Now a second employee is doing the first employee’s job and team productivity is reduced. Third, employees with poor health habits are more likely to have negative attitudes and can cast a pall over the workplace, affecting everyone they come in contact with. This can have an adverse effect on company culture and drive productivity down.   Therefore, it would benefit the company to invest in employee health and other factors that can lead to peak performance.

SLM: What programs are most effective to help employees become healthier?

JC: Weight reduction and exercise programs are effective and worth the investment, but because we live and work in a pressure-packed society, educating the employee on how to deal with and reduce stress in healthy ways is not only beneficial but necessary. Relaxation techniques that lead to more restful sleep and creating a work-life balance are other areas to consider.

SLM: In terms of statistics, what can companies gain by implementing an employee wellness program?

JC: According to one study reported in the October 2013 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers analyzed the productivity effects of a program in which wellness coaches provided telephone support to help employees address health problems. The study utilized measures of lost work time including absenteeism and presenteeism. The program led to significant reductions in lost work time – equivalent to about 10.3 hours in additional productive time per year. Savings averaged about $350 per participating employee, compared to similar workers who did not participate in the wellness program.

SLM: Specifically, what programs do you offer?

JC: I offer wellness, life and career coaching. Specifically, effective and long term weight loss programs are offered to those who wish to lose weight.  During weekly sessions, we explore the reasons behind unhealthy eating and how to replace them with healthy alternatives.  These are held individually and in group sessions.

SLM: Anything else?

JC: Other programs include smoking cessation, stress reduction, work-life balance, overcoming fear of failure and increasing confidence to reach potential. All programs can be tailored to individual or company needs and offered at the workplace.

SLM: What is the philosophical basis behind the work you do?

JC: I use the Transtheoretical Model for Behavior Change, helping program participants assess where they are in the five stages of change (pre-contemplative, contemplative, preparation, action and maintenance) for a particular health behavior. For lasting effect, goals must be set that include the maintenance stage. I believe success depends upon the individual’s efficacy and the belief that they are in control and capable of reaching their set goals.

SLM: What improvements have you seen, for employees and their companies, when these programs are implemented?

JC: The most dramatic effects I see are reflected in the individuals I coach: happy, healthy employees who are focused, energetic, confident and optimistic.  Can you imagine what an entire workforce made up of this type employee might do to a company’s productivity and bottom line?

Jorjia Clinger is the owner of Shapes to Come in Danville and Bloomsburg.

Facts & Figures

67 percent of employers identified “employees’ poor health habits” as one of their top three challenges to maintaining affordable health coverage (survey by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health)

52 percent of all employers that offered wellness programs in 2012 believed that they were effective in reducing the firm’s health care costs (survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust)

The cumulative losses associated with chronic disease totaled $1 trillion in 2003, whereas $277 billion was spent on direct health care.

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