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Look Beyond Health Care Financing to Workforce Health

Originally posted February 26, 2014 by Thomas Parry on https://ebn.benefitnews.com

Employer focus on employee health care will expand in 2014 beyond financing health coverage to managing employee health. We expect to see employers focusing more strategically on workforce heath — in particular, how to build business impacts such as lost work time and performance into their overall assessment of best practices — and how to connect investments in health back to business goals.

However employers’ decisions have been determined by the Affordable Care Act, the reasons to continue investing in employee health and productivity remain, given their impact on employers’ bottom-line costs and top-line job performance. The evidence is clear: poor workforce health has a profound impact on companies, regardless of their industry or size.

Research by our organization, the Integrated Benefits Institute, has investigated financial productivity losses due to worker illnesses including depression, diabetes, low back pain, stress and metabolic conditions. Our findings highlight the necessity for employers to think beyond how health issues impact medical costs. Our research shows:

  • Depression costs employers approximately $62,000 annually per 100 employees in lost work time and medical treatments.
  • Employees with diabetes are 47% more likely to miss at least one day of work per month than workers with normal fasting blood glucose.
  • Low-back pain costs employers $51,400 annually per 100 employees in lost productivity and medical treatments.
  • Employees with metabolic syndromeare three times more likely to have a work-disabling event such as a heart attack or stroke.
  • Stress at work contributes more to poor job performance than either stress at home or financial worries.

Over the course of the year, I’ll be sharing more of our findings related to these illnesses, and the benefits to organizations with a strong commitment to employee health and performance. Our research reveals that employees in organizations with a strong health culture report that they spend more time working, work more carefully and concentrate better than employees at organizations with poor cultures of health.

Workers with better work environments — such as favorable workloads, work-life balance, good relations with managers and fewer demands on their time — also report fewer sick days than those in less healthy workplaces.

Employers can take several steps to acting more strategically about investing in employee health:

1. Assess where you are. Use key metrics to know where your organization currently is and what you have achieved to date regarding employee health. Work with your benefits supplier partners to obtain data and determine your company’s performance relative to organizations, especially organizations within your industry.

2. Use comparisons to identify the greatest opportunities to improve employee health. Since organizations have limited resources, start by focusing on the biggest problems — and the biggest opportunities — facing your company.

3. Measure outcomes. Determine beforehand how you will track results — and track them beyond health care costs alone. Simply saying a program is successful isn’t enough to convince the CFO of the business case for health improvement — results must be measured quantitatively. Senior management is more responsive to requests for investment when HR professionals are able to demonstrate the value of programs in business-relevant terms with metrics demonstrating changes over time.

Employers will find that their investments in workforce health and performance will be most effective when integrated with a broader strategy that includes an understanding of how their organizations can positively or negatively influence workers’ health.