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The benefits of workplace health & wellness programs

Written and accurate as at: Mar 07, 2018 Current Stats & Facts

An individual's health and wellness, especially in relation to ill health or often preventable chronic diseases, can have an impact on not only themselves and their family, but also the funders of the health system (e.g. Government and private health insurers) and the wider community (e.g. businesses).

With approximately one-third of an adult’s life spent at work, a business can often bear many of the indirect costs associated with an employee suffering from ill health or a chronic disease.

This can frequently result in negative flow-on effects to a business.

 

For example: 

  • The cost of absenteeism to the Australia economy is estimated at $7 billion each year.
    • Insight: Healthy employees take nine times less sick days a year than unhealthy employees.
  • The cost of presenteeism (i.e. not fully functioning at work because of ill health or a chronic disease) to the Australian economy is estimated at $35 billion each year.
    • Insight: Healthy employees are almost three times more productive than unhealthy employees in terms of effective hours worked per month.

Consequently, over the years, extensive research* has been undertaken on the benefits associated with businesses implementing workplace health and wellness programs. What has been found is that effectively implemented (and regularly reviewed) workplace health and wellness programs not only improve health outcomes for employees, but also have positive flow-on effects to businesses over the short, medium and long-term. For example:

  • Improvements in work performance and productivity.
  • Reductions in costs associated with absenteeism and presenteeism.
  • Improvements in the culture of the business and retention of existing employees.
  • Improvements in the business’s image and attraction of talented employees.

 

Workplace health and wellness programs
Workplace health and wellness programs largely centre on optimising the health and health-related behaviours of its employees in the work environment. This is often done by tackling chronic diseases and their associated modifiable risk factors. As it stands, in Australia currently:

  • 56% of adults do not participate in sufficient physical activity.
  • 35% of an adult’s total daily energy intake comes from discretionary foods (i.e. those not necessary for nutrients, but often high in fat, salt, sugar etc.). In addition, most adults are not meeting the Australian Dietary Guidelines (e.g. minimum recommended serves from the five food groups).
  • 18% of adults consume more than two standard drinks of alcohol per day.

Smoking, physical inactivity, diet, stress, and alcohol are all modifiable risk factors associated with the development of chronic diseases. Here is a table that explains the impact that certain risk factors can have in terms of the development of chronic diseases.

 

          Summary of chronic diseases and associated risk factors^

  Modifiable risk factors      Intermediate risk factors   
Chronic disease Smoking Physical inactivity Diet Stress Alcohol High blood pressure Raised blood levels High glucose levels Cholesterol, obesity
Heart disease, stroke
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Cancer
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Diabetes  
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Respiratory disease
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Lower back pain
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Please note: There is a cumulative effect when it comes to risk factors, namely, the more risk factors that an individual has then the greater the risk of developing the relevant chronic disease.

 

So how does a business go about implementing an effective workplace health and wellness program? There are several factors to consider, which can help drive the appropriate approach and direction to take:

  • Firstly, what initiatives, if implemented as part of a workplace health and wellness program, would be engaging and relevant to employees, as well as produce the desired beneficial outcomes from an employee health and business point of view.
  • Secondly, how is a business currently placed in terms of implementing initiatives associated with a workplace health and wellness program. For example, efficacy of any existing initiatives, as well as considerations around the implementation of future initiatives with regards to current funds available, office space, location, facilities etc.

Here are a few examples of potential initiatives, some are more simplistic in nature than others – ultimately, their adoption may depend on the factors listed above:

 

Workplace health and wellness programs:

Examples of potential initiatives

Targeted modifiable risk factors Examples
Smoking
  • Provide access to quit smoking counselling and nicotine replacement therapy.
  • Support participation in quit smoking programs during work hours.
Physical inactivity
  • Integrate physical activity into daily work e.g. walking/stand-up meetings and sit stand desks.
  • Sponsor fun-run entry fees or corporate games teams.
  • Provide corporate discounts for out-of-office health and wellness services e.g. gym memberships.
Diet
  • Replace office biscuits and lollies with fresh fruit.
  • Provide healthier options in vending machines. 
Social and emotional
  • Incorporate living walls, sleep spaces/nap pods, meditation rooms into the design of the office.
  • Allocate a day per month for employees to give back to the local community by volunteering.
  • Provide personal development opportunities e.g. time management and stress management.
Alcohol
  • Replace ‘after work’ drinks for a fun activity e.g. a sports competition between work teams.
  • Provide non-alcoholic drinks at work-related events.

 

Moving forward
Businesses bear many of the indirect costs associated with employees suffering from ill health or often preventable chronic diseases. As such, effectively implemented (and regularly reviewed) workplace health and wellness programs can not only improve health outcomes for employees, but also have positive flow-on effects to businesses.

Whether you are a business owner, manager or employee, we hope you have enjoyed reading this article. We leave you with a standout statement from one paper* – businesses can save $5.81 for every $1 invested in employee health and wellness.

*Australian Government, Comcare. (2011). Benefits to business: The evidence for investing in worker health and wellbeing.
^PricewaterhouseCoopers and Medibank. (2010). Workplace wellness in Australia. Aligning actions with aims: Optimising the benefits of workplace wellness.

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