Unhealthy Employees Are Killing Your Bottom Line

Instead of viewing health care coverage as something that employees use after they get sick, take a more proactive approach to keeping employees healthy -- and everyone will see more money in the coffers and less junk in their trunks.
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You know that employee, the one who comes screeching into the office at five of 9:00 a.m., balancing her overflowing briefcase, a jumbo cup of coffee, and a cream-filled donut? The one who scarfs down a sandwich with a diet soda at her desk before heading out for a lunchtime smoke break -- and is still at her desk at 7:00 p.m., slogging through her to-do list? You might be impressed by her dedication -- someone who is chained to her desk for 10 hours straight has got to be adding value to the company, right? So what if she's a little overweight, pre-diabetic, and dealing with high blood pressure? It's not like you're a vision of health yourself, and what she does on her own time with her own body is her concern, not yours.

You're wrong.

In fact, your overweight, over-stressed, smoking employee is probably already costing you thousands of dollars more than her healthy counterparts -- and is likely to make an even bigger impact on your bottom line in the future. According to a recent Milken Institute study, unhealthy workers cost companies more than $1.1 trillion in lost productivity. That doesn't include the cost of providing health care coverage to unhealthy employees, which the American Journal of Health Promotion estimated at $12.7 billion for obese employees alone, thanks to increased costs for health care, sick leave, and disability and life insurance.

In short, your employees' oversized bottoms are shrinking your company's bottom line.

I'm Not Really Here

There's no denying that absenteeism is a huge problem for employers: When your people don't show up, someone else has to pick up the slack or projects fall behind.

Of greater concern, though, is presenteeism -- when people show up to work but they really aren't in any condition to do so. Whether they are sick, overtired, or distracted by stress at home or work, their heads are just not in the game. And that's a huge problem for employers who estimate that each individual loses at least 115 productive hours each year due to chronic conditions like stress.

Another contributor to presenteeism is substance abuse. Many employers have to deal with employees coming to work hung over, drunk, or high. The effects of alcohol abuse, even during an employee's off time, can gravely impact your income statement: These employees aren't providing the work they're being paid for, and your profits are taking a hit. Just imagine how productive your employees could be if they were all engaged instead of nursing a headache, arthritis, or other condition?

The Solution?

Clearly, employers have a vested interest in keeping their employees healthy. The question is, how? In the 1980s, Japanese automakers received a lot of attention for requiring line workers to engage in morning calisthenics before beginning their work day. While images of burly auto workers bending and stretching proved an endless source of amusement (and have since gone the way of cassette decks and popped collars), it turns out that they may have had the right idea.

So does that mean you need to lead your team in a group exercise class each afternoon? Not exactly. But it does mean that a comprehensive wellness program will not only improve your employees' health but your company's bottom line as well. Here are a few suggestions:

Encourage employees to get off their butts. Want to lose some dead weight? Give your employees a way to do it. An employee gym will pay for itself within a few years. Not ready for that level of commitment? Consider subsidizing memberships at local fitness centers. (And check out my article, "4 Ways to Get Fit at the Office.")

Encourage healthy eating. There's no need to take away the occasional "Good Luck Milton" sheet cake, but you can, as a matter of policy, encourage healthier eating among your minions. Work with the vending machine company to offer healthier options, and put out bowls of fruit or fresh veggies in the break room, rather than candy, donuts, or any other nutritionally-empty calorie bombs.

Incentivize healthy behaviors. One of the most effective means of whipping employees into shape is to pass the costs along to them -- in other words, those who choose an unhealthy lifestyle will pay for it in the form of higher health care premiums or surcharges. By some estimates, nearly three-quarters of large companies are charging employees who are overweight or smoke more for their health coverage; by taking health risk assessments and agreeing to a lifestyle management program, employees receive discounts on their health coverage or incentives like gift cards or bonuses while improving their overall health.

The biggest change that employers can make is to change their mindset. Instead of viewing health care coverage as something that employees use after they get sick, take a more proactive approach to keeping employees healthy -- and everyone will see more money in the coffers and less junk in their trunks.

Check out this webinar at Ragan.com to learn easy tips and tricks on how to launch your own corporate wellness program, with very little investment.

Ben Greenfield is a fitness and triathlon expert and host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast on the Quick and Dirty Tips network. His latest book is Get-Fit Guy's Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body: A Workout Plan for Your Unique Shape.

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