The Future: from thought leaders: Wellness in the workplace: prevention is better than cure

doug_wrightHealthy-lifestyle benefits can cut the cost of sickness absence, says Dr Doug Wright, head of clinical governance, Norwich Union Healthcare

Whether you are reading a newspaper, listening to the radio or watching television, you can almost guarantee the topic of health and wellness will come up. This is not surprising considering that the government’s Foresight think-tank estimates that, by 2050, 60% of men, 50% of women and 25% of children in Britain will be clinically obese, with related health problems costing over £45bn a year.

These stark warnings are certainly prompting change. In her report Review of the working age population: Working for a healthier tomorrow, Dame Carol Black, National Director for Health and Work, called for urgent comprehensive reform and, more importantly for business, that employers should offer more support to staff, including actively promoting healthy lifestyles and offering better access to occupational health professionals. The government has since proposed to adopt a number of measures set out in the report.

If employers ignore these recommendations, it is almost inevitable that the cost of sickness absence and recruitment – as well as insurance premiums – will continue to rise. But at a time when the economy is reeling from the effects of economic instability and budgets are already really tight, how can employers justify the additional spend? The simple fact is that by doing nothing, the cost to industry will certainly rise, exacerbating the issue further.

According to the Royal Institute of Public Health, evidence suggests wellness programmes have a positive impact in areas such as staff turnover and productivity, and programme costs quickly translate to financial benefits through cost savings or additional revenue generation.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, meanwhile, has found that in terms of employee health, forward-thinking organisations recognise that managing their human resource is as important to success as control of financial and capital resources. Through investing in people, organisations can achieve excellence and maintain a leading edge.

Wellness management does not need to be complicated, or costly. A few simple steps could help to mitigate long-term problems, such as introducing early intervention activities that red flag cases identified via an absence reporting mechanism, the proactive management of musculo-skeletal conditions and stress, introducing a smoking cessation programme or running regular health and wellbeing days.

So the answers are out there, but which is the right one? Like the term “wellness” itself, this is different every time. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to workplace wellness. Every company is different and employers need to develop a wellness strategy that fits their own culture and requirements.

Understanding key risk areas and reallocating funds to support the right selection of benefits could mean that, over time, a significant difference in both short- and long-term absence is experienced. Also, as employees become healthier, the cost of claims could fall, helping to control future insurance premiums. Any employer that encourages prevention rather than cure will be taking effective steps towards reducing the likelihood of employee liability claims, as opposed to an organisation that only treats the problems after they arise.†

The views and opinions in this article are those of our sponsor Norwich Union and do not necessarily reflect those of

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