As we all well know, one of the top reasons for an organization to implement a workplace wellness program is to reduce the costs associated with the benefits plan, absences and/or employee turnover.
There’s nothing wrong with this motive and, in most (if not all) cases, a comprehensive workplace wellness program will reduce the costs associated with employee health. However, in order for the program to be an ongoing success, employers need to consider employee health risk areas that they can positively impact in addition to the top cost drivers, as they may not be one and the same.
For example, a typical top cost driver to the benefits plan is a biologic drug claims (i.e., for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, HIV). But no amount of physical activity or nutritional improvement will replace this type of drug therapy so it’s not a recommended area of focus for a workplace wellness program.
Whenever possible, employers should locate common denominators within the cost drivers and health risk areas to better focus behaviour modification techniques. Back to the example of biologic drug claims: the focus should be on improving quality of life and work for the individuals with conditions requiring this type of drug therapy.
Help them improve their resilience so their mental health is in top condition. Educate them on adherence to medication to maintain consistency in their treatment. Provide them with support networks to ease the burden of living with a chronic or perhaps life-altering condition.
Connecting the common denominators, employees with chronic conditions such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and diabetes would also benefit from improved resiliency, education on adherence to medication and support networks.
It’s not the employer’s job to keep their employees healthy; it’s the employer’s job to offer the tools and resources they require to keep themselves healthy. Most employees aren’t looking for their employer to take care of them, they’re looking for the information they need to remain or become healthy, happy and productive at work – and employers can easily provide that.
Knowledge is power. This statement neatly sums up the support case for providing information to the masses. When an employee has easy access to qualified information sources they can explore their symptoms and suspicions and begin to form a picture of what is affecting their health – mentally, physically or financially.
From that point they have the power to connect with support networks and the appropriate resources to improve their current condition and maintain ownership of their health and well-being.
If an employees’ health risk areas are known, it’s much easier to determine which sources employers should provide them access to. If health risk areas are unknown, that shouldn’t prevent an employer’s involvement; rather, it should adjust it. Employers can provide a range of sources to cover, at least at a high level, a number of possible health conditions and areas of interest so employees can take the first step in addressing their health risk areas proactively versus simply letting them become cost drivers to their employer and stressors to themselves.
A mix of self-assessments, high level and in-depth education, guidance for next steps and tools for measurement creates a comprehensive package and becomes indispensable within the employees’ wellness toolkit. Employees may only be aware of their symptoms and not yet what conditions lie beneath, so employers should provide opportunities for them to identify their health risk areas and address them through education.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.