Thought leaders 2010: The year ahead: Aviva UK Health insight: A healthy workforce is good for business

Investing in a health and wellbeing programme for employees can pay off in many ways for employers, says Dr Doug Wright, principal clinical consultant at Aviva UK Health

Aviva’s annual Health of the workplace research showed that the current economic climate is affecting not only the financial health of businesses, but also the health of their employees. While productivity levels appear to have remained high, people are working longer hours, skipping lunch breaks, cutting back on exercise, and drinking and smoking more.

These behaviours are already having an adverse effect on employees’ health, with GPs reporting an increase in patients suffering from headaches, insomnia, stress and backache. Yet rather than taking time off work, staff are struggling in despite feeling unwell. Although this ‘presenteeism’ seems to have had a positive impact on sickness absence statistics, in reality, if an employee is genuinely unwell, coming into work could hinder their recovery time, and even exacerbate the problem.

When the pressure is on, it is easy for employees to lose the balance between work and home life, and unless employers introduce cultural and benefit changes that encourage staff to lead a healthier lifestyle, these behaviours are unlikely to change.

With budgets tight, many employers are facing a hard choice between saving money, and investing in the health of their staff and managing their business successfully. Making smart benefit choices is more important than ever, and workplace wellness initiatives can not only be cost-effective, but can also make a real difference to your workforce.

Absenteeism reduced

According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) public health guidance 13 – workplace business case, proactive workplace wellness initiatives have been found to reduce absenteeism by up to 20%. They can also increase job satisfaction and reduce staff turnover by between 10% and 25%. And commenting on PricewaterhouseCoopers’ report Building the case for wellness (February 2008) the Royal Institute of Public Health, said the evidence suggests wellness programme costs quickly translate to financial benefits through cost savings or additional revenue generation.

With such appealing statistics driving increased interest in workplace wellness, it is no surprise that Buck Consultants’ third annual global wellness survey, Working well: a global survey of health promotion and workplace wellness strategies, predicts that the fastest-growing components of wellness initiatives around the world are expected to increase 100% or more over the next three years. These include technology-driven tools, such as web portals, online healthy lifestyle programmes, and personal health records.

While tailoring the right wellness benefits is important, if employers do not lead by example, staff will not follow. You need to instill a culture that encourages staff wellness and introduce a programme that helps staff help themselves – and reward them for doing so.

The good news is you do not need to do all the hard work yourself. There are workplace wellbeing programmes available that include a range of online and offline communications to help engage staff. Whether it is guidance on cutting back on alcohol and cigarettes or advice on stress management, exercising or healthy eating, a host of information is available to support your employees.

These resources can be complemented with employer- or employee-funded health screening, such as blood pressure, pulse, body mass index, blood glucose and cholesterol checks, to identify any health risks early and enable staff to take steps to rectify them. And if your employees’ health profile improves, in addition to the likely improvements in sickness absence, morale and productivity, choosing the right provider could also bring employers a direct financial benefit.

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