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Jun 2, 2011

Employee Wellness: Shape Up or Ship Out

With the state of workers’ health closely linked to productivity, more and more employers are taking a proactive approach to ensure that employees are physically fit for the job. And while some people might think that such policies are an invasion of privacy, company CEOs are unlikely to budge; after all, business leaders have been racking their brains trying to find a solution to curb the rising costs of health care and health insurance premiums.

According to a study of Steelcase Corporation’s health care costs conducted by the University of Michigan, the company paid $597 more annually for every employee who had a drinking problem, $488 more for each employee who led a sedentary lifestyle, $327 more for every employee who had hypertension, and $284 more for each worker who smoked.

The American Institute for Preventive Medicine says that for an average of 100 U.S. employees:

27 have cardiovascular diseases
24 have high blood pressure
50 have high cholesterol levels
26 are obese
26 are smokers
10 are heavy drinkers
50 don’t exercise enough
44 suffer from stress

Fatigue is one of the major health-related problems in the workplace contributing to absenteeism, reduced performance, and on-the-job accidents. About 40 percent of all U.S. workers suffer from fatigue based on a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The Wellness Council of America says that over 81 percent of U.S. companies now have some form of wellness program. Exercise and weight management, stress management, and smoking cessation classes are the most popular health protection programs being implemented. Corporate wellness programs have been found to result in reduced absenteeism, health care claims, and employee turnover; as well as improved productivity and morale, and excellent return on investment.

Lab Safety Supply in Wisconsin, which offers fitness programs, counseling, medical screenings, and safety training, among other programs, has seen a 97 percent reduction in lost workdays. Nebraska’s Lincoln Plating Company reports an $800,000 ROI for $85,000 spent on employee wellness programs.

Some companies give cash incentives to ensure employee participation in wellness programs. IBM employees earn up to $300 a year for making themselves healthier. Other companies like Scotts Miracle-Gro have resorted to drastic measures to get workers to participate in health protection programs. Profiled in Businessweek and Wall Street Journal in 2007, its wellness strategy is: Take part or ship out.

Jim Hagedorn, CEO of the lawn and garden products manufacturer, built a $5 million, 24,000-square foot gym and medical facility for company workers. Employees have to undergo health-risk assessments or pay additional monthly premiums.  All have a health coach who lays down a customized health plan for them.

One Scotts Miracle-Gro executive even owes his life to his wellness coach for helping prevent what could have been a massive heart attack within a few days by badgering the executive to see a doctor because his cholesterol level was unusually high. What about employees who fail to abide by the mandatory health protection programs? They get fired. An employee was served his walking papers when he continued to indulge his nicotine cravings.

Hagedorn’s wellness policy for the workplace is simple: If you choose to be unhealthy, don’t ask the company to pay for your insurance.

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