Prescription drugs. Dental. Physiotherapy. Think your group health benefits package provides your employees with everything they need to stay healthy and productive? At first glance, it probably does. But if you look a little closer, you may decide it’s time to think again.
We’ve Been Treating The Symptoms
Of course, offering a comprehensive health benefits package is an excellent way to attract and retain the talent your company needs to succeed. When employees can access health care providers and obtain medication at a subsidized rate, they’re more likely to do so – and, in theory, these benefits plans will help them stay healthy and make a positive contribution to the company. But recent research suggests that these may just be band-aid solutions; in fact, we’re treating the symptoms instead of the source.
Over the past several years, society at large has experienced significant changes both in lifestyle and in the way we work, and these changes are having a huge impact on our health. We’ve adopted a more sedentary lifestyle: we’re working longer hours, sitting more and are less active both at work and at home. At Pelorus, we refer to this as the Knowledge Worker Syndrome as employees at knowledge-based companies are particularly susceptible to this trend of sitting more and moving less. We think it warrants some serious attention.
Consider the statistics. According to the American Heart Association, sedentary jobs have risen by 83% since 1950, and today, 86% of American workers sit all day. Closer to home, according to a national survey quoted in a report from The Conference Board of Canada, only 15% of Canadian adults get the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity. That same survey revealed that Canadians spend about 10 waking hours every day sitting – whether at their desks, computers and other devices or watching television.
Both Employees and Employers are Suffering
With an increased sedentary lifestyle, there has been a corresponding rise in chronic illness that is beginning to adversely impact employers’ operating costs and profits. The Conference Board of Canada reports that physical inactivity increases the likelihood of type 2 diabetes by 43%, hypertensions by 26%, osteoporosis by 36% and the incidence of many cancers by over 25%. The growing prevalence of chronic illness in the workplace will increase the cost of health benefits and employee absenteeism while reducing the capacity and resilience of the workforce.
Getting to the Source of the Problem
So, what’s a company to do in the face of this situation? You need to look beyond the traditional health benefit solutions. Rather than simply offering a benefits plan that helps employees deal with the disease consequences of their inactive lifestyle, explore the introduction of programs that will help prevent the progression of chronic illness (approximately 50% to 70% of chronic illness is preventable). However, this require a change in the way many companies approach supporting the health of their employees.
Start with Small Steps – They Can Make a Big Difference
Make a change to the corporate culture within your organization. Start emphasizing the importance of your employees’ health and wellbeing. Even small steps towards this goal can make a difference. Consider:
- Instituting mandatory physical activity breaks (at our office, we break for short walks at 10:30 am and 2:30 pm three days a week)
- Introducing healthier food options at office functions
- Providing healthier vending machine options
- Introducing group wellness challenges
- Instituting sit/stand work options (at our office, all employees have a sit/stand desk)
- Providing wellness consultations to employees – each individual will have a tailored health program monitored by the consultant
- Introducing active sitting to focus on the employees’ core
You can encourage individual participation through team challenges and acknowledge group/individual efforts through reward programs (we have initiated an intranet software allowing for friendly competition). This creates awareness and sense of community within your organization. You will find that these types of initiatives are a good investment that positively reinforces corporate culture.
Proactively addressing this emerging challenge associated with the Knowledge Worker Syndrome is the best way to stabilize future health benefits costs while at the same time improving work force resilience, productivity and corporate profit. A healthy, engaged employee is a more productive employee.
For more extensive change, you should turn to the experts for advice on developing and implementing a comprehensive program. We can help. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.