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Promoting Physical Wellness in the Workplace

By March 22, 2019No Comments

Creating a culture that supports employees’ physical well-being goes beyond offering gym discounts and implementing weight-loss, smoking cessation or walking programs at your organization.

It’s all about giving employees the tools they need to manage costly chronic conditions and to make healthy choices while they’re at the office.

Managing Costly Chronic Conditions

Health care costs continue to increase on a stable basis, and that trend won’t start to downturn anytime soon.

And, many people wrongly assume that treating catastrophic accidents or illnesses are what’s driving costs to increase.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), treating chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes account for 86% of the nation’s health care costs.

Chronic conditions not only deeply affect those who suffer from them, but can also lead to increased medical expenditures and lost productivity for employers.

However, in spite of their devastating effects, many chronic conditions are preventable.

While some factors such as age, genetics, and environmental triggers may be unavoidable – controlling modifiable risk factors such as smoking, physical inactivity and eating an unhealthy diet can play an important part in preventing chronic conditions.

According to the CDC, chronic diseases are health conditions that require ongoing management over an extended period of time. Some chronic conditions have very few symptoms while others severely limit a person’s ability to perform normal, routine tasks.

Approximately 133 million Americans live with one or more chronic diseases, which translates into an increased cost for employers.

On average, employer health care coverage for an employee with a chronic condition is five times higher than coverage for those without a chronic disease. So what can employers do to reduce health care costs for themselves and their employees? Think prevention.

Treating chronic diseases involves physician visits, extended hospital stays, prescription drugs and expensive treatments. Chronic diseases are serious, costly and often preventable.

Once they are fully developed, these conditions may be managed, yet never cured. Despite this, there are safe, cost-effective interventions to avoid chronic diseases altogether.

To avoid productivity loss, presenteeism, absenteeism, disability and early retirement for your employees, you should educate them on the value of chronic disease prevention.

Here’s the top 4 costly chronic conditions plaguing employees across the country, accompanied with what you can do to help prevent them.

Employees with Diabetes:

It’s estimated that 90-95% of individuals with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is commonly referred to as adult-onset diabetes, which means that individuals with this form of diabetes aren’t born with it, but develop it later in life.

Treating this condition, which is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States, is costly for both employees and employers, but is necessary to avoid further complications.

Here’s what you can do-

Research shows that eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol are all ways to lower one’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Consider implementing small changes around your workplace, like offering healthy vending machine options, prohibiting smoking on-site and establishing a workout club or gym discounts, to encourage employees to lead a healthy lifestyle and prevent Type 2 diabetes.

Employees with Heart Disease:

According to the CDC, about 1 in every 4 deaths in the United States involve heart disease, a term that includes several different types of heart conditions. Heart disease contributes to absences from work, poor performance and death. Treatment and indirect costs related to heart disease add up to nearly $313 billion each year.

Here’s what you can do-

Similar to preventing diabetes, leading a healthy lifestyle through eating healthy, exercising, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol is a great way to lower one’s risk of developing heart disease. Consider offering heart-healthy options in vending machines or in your cafeteria and encourage employees to exercise regularly to prevent heart disease.

Employees with Musculoskeletal Injuries:

These types of injuries are among the most common injuries an employee will experience in their lifetime. Additionally, these injuries can range from minor to severe, and can even cause employees to miss work.

Here’s what you can do-

Encourage employees to prevent musculoskeletal injuries through educating them on ergonomics. Additionally, provide them with resources that demonstrate the importance of warming up, stretching and cooling down when working out.

Employees Misuse of Opioids:

In the face of the opioid epidemic, employers nationwide are having to address opioid use, abuse and addiction in their workplace. Estimates show that the opioid crisis costs the U.S. economy over $95 billion every year, with employers footing $18 billion of that bill themselves.

Here’s what you can do-

Employers need to do everything possible to combat the impact opioids have in the workplace. There’s no silver bullet for this crisis. However, exploring new initiatives can help you develop your own strategy to best suit the needs of your employees.

These new initiatives can include expanding coverage options for alternative pain treatment (e.g., acupuncture or chiropractic care), educating employees extensively on the risks opioids present, encouraging employees to speak with a doctor, and establishing or promoting an employee assistance program (EAP).

By targeting these four high-cost health issues, you may be able to mitigate some of their related health care costs and, in turn, help your employees become healthier.

Remember to take a multichannel approach when educating employees. This includes sending out emails, delivering printed materials, hanging up infographics or posters, or sharing brief videos with employees.

A multichannel communication plan will help ensure as many employees as possible receive your message.

Don’t Forget About the Small Things

As previously alluded to, physical well-being goes beyond the typical initiative-focused programs. To achieve optimal organizational health and well-being, you need to take a broader approach, specifically when it comes to your organizational environment.

For example, sending out messaging that encourages employees to make the healthy beverage or food choice won’t resonate if you’re not offering those healthy options.

In similar fashion, if you’re encouraging employees to go for a walk or go to the gym, but aren’t offering flexible scheduling that permits them to do so when it works for them (so long as it doesn’t interfere with their work), that will send mixed messages.

These small things may not seem important at a quick glance, but it’s the small things that will help you incorporate well-being into your organization’s culture and, subsequently, into your employees’ every day lives.

Here’s a few simple small tweaks you can introduce at your organization to subtly make phsyical well-being a top-of-mind concern for employees:

  • Switch out beverage offerings that are high in sugar and calories for lower-calorie, lower-sugar options. Be cautious about offering diet-only options, though, as recent research has raised concern over how healthy sugar substitutes are. Make sure to offer water to your employees, as it’s one of the healthiest beverages they can consume.

  • Evaluate your food options. Do you have a cafeteria or vending machine at your organization? If so, are the food options you’re offering healthy? Convenience often wins over health, so make sure to offer both convenient and healthy options for your employees at work. Additionally, this concept extends to company events where food is served. Make sure you keep health in mind when choosing your catered menus.

  • Consider partnering with local companies to promote physical well-being. Are there gyms close to your organization? What about massage, acupuncture or chiropractic services? Reach out to these local companies to see if you can work out deals or promotions that you can offer your employees through your organization. Employees are more likely to seek out these services when there’s a deal involved.

  • Make ergonomics a priority. When things like standing desks and ergonomic workstations are offered to employees, they’re more likely to use them and reap the rewards. Since they’re at work for the majority of their Monday-Friday routine, giving them a workstation that promotes physical well-being is a great way to show that you’re committed to their wellness.

  • Offer flexible scheduling. While this isn’t the best option for every workplace, offering flexible work arrangements gives employees the freedom to exercise when it works for them. This could mean they use their lunch hour to get a workout in at a local gym, or that they come in a little later in the morning so that they can get a workout in before their shift. Offering flexible scheduling also creates a work-life balance that can increase their mental and social well-being, too, which is an added bonus.

Remember, physical well-being initiatives should focus on the overall physical health of your employees, not just specific components.

Not to mention, physical health can directly correlate with your group health insurance costs.

The healthier your group is, the more opportunities you have to reduce your overall group health insurance costs. Simply put, the healthier a person, the less frequent they go to the doctor or purchase prescription drugs. These costs add up against your group health insurance plan – and can result in costly increases on your overall group health insurance premium.

Interested in learning more? Call us at O’Neill Insurance at (330) 334-1561 and ask to speak with a representative in our Group Health Insurance department.


Components of this article were adapted from Zywave. This is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice.