Healthy Employees, Healthy Business: Health in the Workplace 6/7/2010 A company can only do as well as its employees. There are many factors that affect the output of any given employee, and one of the most important of these is physical health. Without physical well-being, an employee will not perform to his or her full potential, and employers are becoming increasingly responsible for this aspect of performance in their businesses. Providing good medical insurance and adequate time off for employees in medical crisis are leading issues when it comes to how health can affect the workplace positively or negatively.
One of the most important parts of ensuring good health, and thus good performance, in the workplace is to provide health insurance. There are several ways a company might provide this insurance, most by offering enrollment in a company sponsored plan. Many health policy researchers have argued that increased health insurance plan choice will enhance the efficiency of health care markets by improving competition. However, relatively little is known about the prevalence of choice in the workplace or its effects on access to and satisfaction with coverage.
The availability of health insurance plan choice in the U. S. workplace determines the extent to which individual workers have access to additional health insurance plans indirectly through a family member’s (usually a spouse) job. Research shows that many workers do not have a choice of health plans and that having a choice of health plans is associated with higher satisfaction and greater access to health care. While accounting for spousal and other family coverage increases the number of workers with plan choice, there are a sizable proportion of workers who lack health insurance.
Additionally, health insurance plan choice appears to be correlated with worker, employment, and geographic characteristics. Large number of employees, however, are offered only one health plan from their employer and those without choice are less satisfied with their health insurance coverage and are less likely to have access to care. The U. S. market as well as the U. S. workers as a whole would be largely improved if all employees had a choice of health plans. If this is true, there is considerable room for improvement since many employees lack such choice.
This finding is vitally important to those concerned with the efficiency of the American workplace. Though an employee may have health insurance, in order to keep costs down, they must keep un relatively good health. In light of this, many employers are taking a preventative approach to health in their workplaces. Workplace wellness programs–which focus on illness prevention and chronic disease management through self-maintenance–are one key ingredient for healthcare cost control.
Healthier employees tend to be happier, more motivated and more focused, which benefit their employers through reduced healthcare-related expenditures, improved productivity, lowered absenteeism and fewer on-the-job accidents. These strong internal and external influences will affect the wellness market by giving credence to the legal issues in article and by stressing the judicious use of incentives and disincentives. The US Dept. of Health and Human Services reported that a Johnson and Johnson’s wellness program yielded an estimated savings of at least $1. million through decreased medical costs, reduced sick leave, and increased productivity; city employees insured by the City of Mesa, Arizona revealed a significantly greater decrease in health care costs of employees who participated in a mobile worksite health promotion program, as opposed to employees not participating. Health care costs decreased 16%, resulting in a $3. 6 savings for every dollar spent on health promotion services; and (c) the return on investment enjoyed by five large companies, as a result of their health promotion and disease prevention activities, ranged from $2. 5 to $6. 15 per employee. Despite these convincing numbers, workplace wellness programs ought to be cautious in their use of rewards and punishments for motivating employees to lead healthier lifestyles. There is good reason for the Department of Labor’s recently issued regulatory guidelines rejecting the use of incentives and disincentives that make health insurance more expensive for unhealthy workers than for their colleagues. For example, smoking (as well as drug and alcohol) addiction is due to the influence of a powerful complex of biological and psychological factors.
For many people, counseling (and medications) is required, and numerous relapses are common. Instead of simply punishing smoking, those addicted ought to be rewarded initially for participating in counseling to deal with the physical and psychological causes of their addictions. For employees whose health would improve if the curtailed their use of alcoholic beverages and recreational drugs, the same strategy should be offered, assuming they are not breaking company policies.
Similarly, certain compulsions, such as the drive to persistently overeat, are driven by powerful physiological, mental and emotional influences. As with addictions, weight loss typically requires counseling, family/peer support, and even medications or other medical procedures (e. g. , gastric bypass or band). Our culture makes matters worse by promoting unhealthy diets through commercials and fast-food companies selling high-carb and high-fat foods and beverages. Time and money constraints are also a factor in the effectiveness of these programs.
Many employees have work, family and other demands that consume their time and make lifestyle change difficult. What they need is help with time management and developing wellness plans that take their busy schedules into account. Some have serious money problems, which prevent them from buying more healthy foods, a gym membership, prescribed medications, diagnostic tests, etc. Wellness programs, therefore, ought to focus on providing the risk assessment, feedback and counseling necessary to deal with the emotional, attitudinal and resource blocks that prevent employees from making positive changes.
When discussing health related issues in the workplace, it is essential to include pregnancy and how this issue affects women, their families and their careers. Sadly, even though the United States is a developed country, we’re still one of the few countries in the entire world that does not federally mandate paid maternity leave. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, U. S. workers are allowed to take up to 12 weeks leave for to tend to family or medical needs, but their absence is unpaid.
States are beginning to take more of an initiative on this front, human-resources experts say. For example, California has passed legislation for paid family leave — called the State Disability Insurance Program, which entitles employees a maximum of six weeks of partial pay per year to care for a newborn or other family matters. While U. S. employers are moving in the way of providing more family-friendly workplace policies, many currently provide alternative forms of payment through their short-term disability programs.
For example, having a baby can be considered a qualifying condition for getting paid disability leave. On Feb. 1, Sen. Chris Dodd (Conneticut), who authored the Family and Medical Leave Act, proposed new legislation that would expand the act by providing at least six weeks of paid leave for workers. “Besides our nation’s families, our nation’s economy, its production, and its competitiveness are threatened when families are forced to choose between the job they need and the family they love,” Dodd said in a statement announcing the legislation. FMLA was a milestone in our nation’s dialogue, acknowledging that families, workforce production and competitiveness are not mutually exclusive. ” The United States also lags behind in protecting working women’s right to breastfeed. At least 107 countries grant women the right to breastfeed, and in 73 of those countries, the breaks are paid, the study found. The United States does not have any protections in place for women who want to breastfeed. Thus terrible situation puts thousands of women in the difficult position of choosing career over family or vice versa when there are many reasons for them to have both.
In addition, employers may lose a valuable resource in a woman who needs to take time off to care for her family or raise children and cannot return, or must return and will do so unhappily and unproductively. Just as working women may stress over juggling their families and their careers, others stress over their work in general. As a result, employees may experience anxiety that could eventually affect their work performance causing more stress. This vicious cycle could be broken if employers would not only take care of the employee’s physical health, but mental health as well.
Nearly everyone agrees that job stress results from the interaction of the worker and the conditions of work. Views differ, however, on the importance of worker characteristics versus working conditions as the primary cause of job stress. These differing viewpoints are important because they suggest different ways to prevent stress at work. According to one school of thought, differences in individual characteristics such as personality and coping style are most important in predicting whether certain job conditions will result in stress — in other words, what is stressful for one person may not be a problem for someone else.
This viewpoint leads to prevention strategies that focus on workers in ways to help them cope with demanding job conditions. Although the importance of individual differences cannot be ignored, scientific evidence suggests that certain working conditions are stressful to most people (for example, excessive workload demands and conflicting expectations). Such evidence argues for a greater emphasis on working conditions as the key source of job stress, and for job redesign as a primary prevention strategy.
The design of tasks (heavy workload, infrequent rest breaks, long work hours and shiftwork), management style (lack of participation by workers in decision-making), interpersonal relationships, work roles (conflicting or uncertain job expectations), career concerns and environmental conditions such as crowding, noise, air pollution, or ergonomic problems are all factors in employee stress levels. Luckily, these are all issues that an employer could potentially control and improve. Health is a factor in everyone’s life, and even more so in the workplace.
Health insurance, wellness programs, family and medical leave (especially where pregnant women are concerned) and mental health are all important issues to be considered when considering maximum employee productivity and workplace satisfaction. References Callanan, C. (2009). BUILDING HEALTHIER WORKERS. Nursing Standard, 23(46), 62-63. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database. Cooklin, A. , Rowe, H. , & Fisher, J. (2007). Employee being. entitlements during pregnancy and maternal psychological well-being.
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