Keeping Employees Hardworking but Healthy

Monday, July 24th, 2006
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

America’s consistently working harder; from 1970 to 2002, hours worked per capita rose 20 percent, due largely to American workers retiring at a later age. Added time in the office means more time under conditions of stress, inactivity and unhealthy eating habits. And after a 50-hour workweek, employees want to spend time with their families, not at the gym.

It is encouraging that employers are now taking some responsibility and repaying workers by investing in their health. Driven by a desire to reduce healthcare spending and to increase employees’ productive longevity—at this rate I’ll be retiring at 80—health plans and employers are increasingly offering a variety of ways to keep focused on health in the workplace.

In fact, all but 15 percent of employers in a recent HIN survey said that they either already offer wellness programs to their employees or will be doing so within the coming year. Employers and health plans are utilizing programs that run the gamut from communal to personal initiatives. In addition to on-site fitness centers and workgroup Weight Watchers programs, there are “life coaches” for diabetics and psychologists who help employees quit smoking.

But what programs are working? Are organizations’ time, effort and money being spent wisely? Not always. The survey found that while health fairs are a common offering, they are rarely assessed as being effective. Conversely, few employers reimburse employees for local gym memberships, but those that do are experiencing great success with the programs.

While it may have taken a big hit to the pocketbook to get them going, improving employee health is a noble endeavor. But employers and health plans need to know what programs will both get employees involved and get them healthy.

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