Employee health: Time to up the ante


  • The global cost of mental illness through lost productivity, absences and staff turnover is estimated to be around $2.5tn annually.
  • While some companies are adding wellness programs measurement effectiveness is lacking.
  • Despite strong data supporting the effectiveness of wellness initiatives, a recent survey by Employee Benefits News (EBN) of 245 benefits managers, administrators and human resources professionals, reported that only 44% of respondents are currently running one.
  • Every dollar invested in the intervention yielded $6 in healthcare savings.

The unemployment rate is low and the competition to fill open positions can be fierce. Do you really want to lure candidates with higher salaries and are people who are looking strictly at money the kind of people you really want to hire?

Workplace wellness programs — efforts to get workers to lose weight, eat better, stress less and sleep more — are an $8 billion industry in the U.S. But no one has been sure they work. Various studies over the years have provided conflicting results, with some showing savings and health improvements while others say the efforts fall short.

According to a study in JAMA “in this cluster-randomized trial involving 32 974 employees at a large US warehouse retail company, worksites with the wellness program had an 8.3-percentage point higher rate of employees who reported engaging in regular exercise and a 13.6-percentage point higher rate of employees who reported actively managing their weight, but there were no significant differences in other self-reported health and behaviors; clinical markers of health; health care spending or utilization; or absenteeism, tenure, or job performance after 18 months”.

The best employee well-being programs have goals that include reducing healthcare costs, absenteeism, and disability. These benefits can be quantified by summing the dollars saved by the wellness program divided by the dollars spent on the wellness program. This is the classic ROI analysis, sometimes known as a benefit-to-cost ratio.

Among the biggest need of employer, wellness is mental health. The global cost of mental illness through lost productivity, absences and staff turnover is estimated to be around $2.5tn annually. The US corporate wellness market is predicted to hit $11.3bn by 2021 but how much will be allocated to mental health?

We lack evidence as to whether the employee assistance programs, which are now commonplace in many big organizations, help stop mental health problems developing or help people receive support and recover when they do. This is unacceptable.

Adding to mental health issues is the need that employees feel to “connect” with their work emails at night, on weekends and while on vacations. American’s take less vacation time than the rest of the industrialized world. Too many employees feel the constant need to be involved with their jobs and organizations 24 hours s day and it’s taking a toll.

Pharma has focused on developing a cure for what ails us but they aren’t devoting enough resources to awareness and prevention. Non-branded sites have all but disappeared and helping HCP’s and employers identify potential health issues is nonexistent.

Employers need to reach out to all the players in healthcare to discuss, implement and measure ways to ensure employees stay healthy. It’s one-way healthcare costs can be trimmed and savings added to the bottom line.