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Employee wellness can translate to more profit

/ 11:32 PM September 08, 2012

WORKERS enjoy some downtime. In employees’ well-being lies the company’s salvation.

In the Philippines, the scenario is all too frequent: Employees calling in sick due to various illnesses like cold, fever, headache, body ache and pain. Sick or emergency leaves are filed to care for family members who fall ill. Chronic illnesses have become more prevalent with an alarming increase in the number of employees seeking medical assistance for cancer, diabetes, kidney and liver ailments, high blood pressure, strokes and the like. Many companies have lost relatively young and successful executives to permanent disability or early death.

A report by World Economic Forum and the Harvard School of Public Health said that a global epidemic of the so-called lifestyle diseases or NCDs (noncommunicable diseases)—including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases—have become a clear threat to global development and economic growth.

These lifestyle diseases are responsible for 63 percent of all deaths worldwide, with 80 percent of those deaths coming from low and middle income countries. Half of those who die are in the prime of their years. The report states that NCDs will cost more than $30 trillion over the next 20 years, and push more people below the poverty line.

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Employee illness affects a company’s profitability directly. Studies show that each day of absence due to illness is equivalent to almost 6 times loss of worker productivity per year. Workers who are unable to concentrate at work due to their own illnesses or illnesses of family members, “called presenteeism,” translates into almost 8 times of reduced worker productivity. Productivity losses from presenteeism exceed the costs of absenteeism and medical disability combined.

Studies also show that healthy workers are 3.1 times more productive than their unhealthy colleagues: Healthy workers produced 140 “effective working hours” per month, while the least healthy workers produced only 45 “effective working hours” or 3.1 times less. The cost of lost productivity due to health together with direct medical spending were shown to be four times greater than direct medical spending alone.

It is a well known fact that the performance of a company’s human resources is the primary determinant for its success or failure. Healthy employees who are productive translate to company profitability and vice versa.

With productivity and profitability directly linked to employee health, and with the rising incidence of chronic illnesses in the country, there is an urgent need for companies to consider health promotion, disease prevention and employee wellness as a strong value proposition. Companies need to review their employee health strategy: How important is employee health to the organization? Is it a cost driver or a performance driver?

Employee wellness can be seen as a key value, not only in terms of employee benefits, but as a vital strategy for business sustainability. With this in mind, a company can take the opportunity to redefine the role of departments in charge of employee health and medical concerns—be it the company clinic or HR department. Is it a simple dispenser of medicines and administrator of medical benefits or is it a strategic partner in proactively promoting health in the organization? Does it have a well thought out strategy and plan to introduce, maintain and sustain a culture of wellness and health in the organization?

Many companies have started health promotion activities designed to raise awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle. Company sponsored fun runs, nutrition classes and health checkups have become popular in the metropolis. Wellness, however,  goes beyond nutrition and exercise and involves activities that help the individuals achieve balance in the body, mind and spirit.

Beyond single, sporadic activities targeting nutrition and exercise, a company would be well advised to adopt a vision and strategy of health promotion and wellness aimed at introducing a vibrant culture of health in the organization. A well designed wellness program is visibly supported by top management, utilizes several methodologies and activities which actively engage and inspire employees, encourages employees to take responsibility for their lifestyle decisions, and ultimately reflects the end result of improved productivity and greater profitability for the company.

Such programs provide an attractive return on investment for the business and make the company an attractive employer of choice. Companies that see employee wellness programs as a key driver to keep their employees healthy will have a distinct advantage from companies that view employee sickness as a necessary but unwelcome expense.

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(The author is president of Nurture Village, and Spa and Wellness Professionals. Nurture Village in Tagaytay offers spa, wellness and natural healing services in addition to corporate teambuilding and wellness activities. Cathy has been involved in human resources training and organization development for the past 30 years and is a certified worksite wellness specialist from the Natural Wellness Institute of Wisconsin, USA.)

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TAGS: Employee Wellness, Employment, Human Resource
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