Why Ignoring Employee Wellness Is a Mistake

checklist-190Although numerous recent studies have shown that companies with wellness programs have a higher number of healthier and engaged workers versus those that don’t, some employers remain holdouts, feeling such initiatives are superfluous rather than strategic imperatives. These companies take this approach despite the fact that as of 2012, about 117 million people in the U.S. (about half of all adults) have had one or more chronic health conditions – including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But it’s not just chronic physical conditions adversely affect today’s workforce; mental health issues are also on the rise. The National Institute of Mental Health found that as of 2014 about 43.6 million American adults had been diagnosed with a mental illness. “This number represented 18.1 percent of all U.S. adults,” added the federal research agency on mental disorders.

Then there’s an abundance of risky behavior. In 2011, the CDC discovered the following:

  • “More than half (52 percent) of adults aged 18 years or older did not meet recommendations for aerobic exercise or physical activity.”
  • “About half of US adults (47 percent) have at least one of the following major risk factors for heart disease or stroke: uncontrolled high blood pressure, uncontrolled high LDL cholesterol, or are current smokers.”
  • “More than 42 million adults—close to 1 of every 5—said they currently smoked cigarettes in 2012.”

Any one of these conditions can be detrimental to the workplace and “take a toll on energy, focus, mood, and collegiality, not to mention the absenteeism caused by doctor’s visits, sick days, and times where one might as well be absent as they’re there but not really there,” said the Huffington Post. “It is a life lived with medications, side effects, and pain, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to the most productive day, does it?”

Cost-conscious companies worried about the financial toll that launching employee wellness initiatives might entail should take into account the long-term benefits, resulting in higher ROI as opposed to not having such programs in place. According to a study conducted by Drs. Richard Milani and Carl Lavie in which they examined 185 workers and their spouses, 57 percent who were characterized as “high-risk” for heart conditions based on body fat, blood pressure, anxiety and other factors, “were converted to low-risk status” by the end of a six-month program in which they received cardiac rehabilitation and exercise training, reported the Harvard Business Review.

“Furthermore, medical claim costs had declined by $1,421 per participant, compared with those from the previous year,” added HBR, which noted that the money invested in this program “yielded $6 in health care savings.”

There’s also another benefit: A healthier workforce can often lead to a lower turnover. In a 2012 study sponsored by the Principal Financial Group and conducted by Harris Interactive, nearly half (45 percent) of workers polled at small to medium-sized businesses said they were more likely to stay if their employer offered wellness programs. And of that group, 43 percent revealed that company wellness programs led them to miss fewer days of work.

These findings help demonstrate some long-term rewards of well-run employee wellness programs.