Creating a culture of health in the workplace

With Americans working more hours each year, the workplace has become an environment that directly impacts the health and happiness of employees.

With Americans working more and more hours each year, the workplace has become an environment that directly impacts the health and happiness of employees. The workplace environment has direct bearing on not only employee health, but also on employers' bottom lines.

Half of all American adults suffer from a chronic disease, be it heart disease, diabetes, a smoking-related illness, or something else. In the workplace, chronic disease can manifest itself as more stress or absences, on-the-job sleepiness, lower productivity, and presenteeism - coming to work while sick. Employers across the US are increasingly spending more on healthcare and lost productivity than they are on raw materials or other labor and development costs.

The unwell workforce costs employers $153 billion annually, a figure set to rise to a staggering $1.2 trillion by 2023 and $5.6 trillion by 2050. Not only do employers have a moral imperative to do right by their staff and provide them with services that will improve their health and well-being, but they also have a financial reason to invest: healthy workers cost employers 41% less than staff who struggle with their health, and cost 62% less than employees who are suffering from a chronic condition. The numbers speak for themselves. Great employee health leads to a happier workforce and has the power to increase productivity.

The good news is that readily available solutions for employers of all sizes exist. The Clinton Foundation's Health Matters Initiative was founded on the philosophy that it's possible to open source the "how of health." We build strategic partnerships to facilitate the development and scaling of solutions that promote better health, making sure key stakeholders share their expertise, models, and successes.

As part of our efforts, we work with staff to improve employee-health outcomes, decrease health disparities, and reduce healthcare costs through the implementation of evidence-based and comprehensive employee-health and well-being programs.

In September, we brought together representatives from leading corporations, such as Microsoft, Bank of America, Sanofi, and Humana, as well as NGOs, for the first Employee Effectiveness and Well-Being Forum at the W Hotel in New York City. We discussed ways in which organizations of all sizes can accelerate methods to improve employee health and well-being. In group sessions, a pattern emerged as employers recognized the best way to increase staff effectiveness and well-being is through on-going, comprehensive engagement programs.

We work with companies to optimize the health of their work environments that take employees' needs and lifestyles into account and are aimed at improving health behaviors. By leveraging our framework, organizations can create a pervasive culture of health by implementing evidence-based programs, policies, and systems in the following areas: benefits and value-added benefits design; employee-wellness programs; core business alignment; and CSR strategies.

Tactics we employ to improve employee health across the country include reducing stress, increasing physical activity, nutrition, smoking cessation, and decreasing workplace injury. Together, these strategies can have an immediate and direct impact on the productivity of staff.

Thanks to our framework, Humana, a partner of ours, has already developed a comprehensive strategy around employee effectiveness and well-being. It incorporates a family friendly workplace, a core business alignment that inspires health, and a well-being program that offers on-site clinics, incentive programs, and benefit plans. The office environment even incorporates treadmills at work stations. We look forward to continuing to develop these programs and engage more employers in our work.

By creating work environments with health and wellness at the center, employers and employees can both win. Physical activity and healthy eating helps to prevent illness and reduce stress. As a result, employers benefit from increased staff retention, attendance, and productivity, as well as cost savings. Researchers estimate that employers get a return of $3.27 for every wellness dollar invested.

Making an investment in employee health pays dividends. 

Ginny Ehrlich is CEO of Clinton Health Matters Initiative.

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