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Promoting Good Employee Health
Now more than ever, employee health should be one of your top priorities. The health and wellbeing of your employees can dictate how successful your workplace is, influencing the costs associated with frequent sick days or leave of absences due to health reasons.
Approaching workplace wellness from a holistic standpoint is critical, and that involves offering wellness programs that do not singularly focus on a return on investment (ROI). Companies that treat employee wellness in such a way are much more likely to see reduced absenteeism and presenteeism, greater employee engagement and productivity, less scheduled paid time off from employees, fewer workers’ comp claims, increased employee retention rates, greater employee satisfaction and morale, and overall a demonstrable competitive advantage in the market.
The benefits of promoting good employee health are evidently numerous, but how can your organization actually go about doing so? First, let’s take a look at what employee health is defined as.
What is Employee Health?
Simply put, employee health encompasses the physical and mental status of your employees. It covers both illness and wellness, and also stresses the equal importance of maintaining both physical health and mental health. Physical and mental wellbeing influences not only how well your employees perform in their day-to-day work efforts but can also have long-lasting impacts on their overall morale and satisfaction if they feel their health was not properly addressed by their employers.
It is important to note that the concept of employee health goes further than the simple definition of their physical and mental wellbeing. It also encompasses the wellness and prevention sides involved in maintaining good health habits and eliminating unhealthy habits. For example, smoking, lack of exercise, and poor eating habits are all areas in which companies frequently intervene. Annual physicals and flu shots are often provided by organizations, both of which fall into the overarching employee health package being provided in the workplace.
How to Promote Good Employee Health
Any progressive employer is always aiming to keep their employees healthy and happy. This is not necessarily just because they have a good and caring nature, but rather because healthy and happy employees cost employers less and bring in higher productivity levels. Studies show that absenteeism from an employee costs the business up to 28% more than the employee’s regular wage. Even those employees who do show up when they are sick, referred to as “presenteeism”, it still costs the employer money because their work levels are not optimal. In fact, working at suboptimal levels while sick accounts for between 20% and 60% of the total health-related costs faced by employers that can be traced to on-the-job productivity losses.
Simply put, even the most inward-focused employer stands to gain from promoting employee health. So, what can you do to improve employee health within your organization? Below are some best tips and practices.
Introducing Wellness Programs
A relatively new practice, but now one of the most popular choices by employers when trying to promote better employee health, are health and wellness programs. There are two types of employee wellness programs you can implement:
- Lifestyle management. These programs focus on diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes. While these wellness programs do somewhat reduce health care claims, they ultimately do not lead to significantly lower employer health care costs. However, they can help employees develop healthier habits, which reduces the rate of absenteeism and increases productivity.
- Disease management. Another great method to substantially decrease absenteeism and increase employee productivity are the implementation of disease management programs. These focus on reducing the unhealthy factors that lend risk to the development of chronic diseases, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tobacco use, physical inactivity and poor nutrition. By reframing lifestyle management efforts as necessary for long-term health, employers can see meaningful reductions in employees who suffer from these factors.
Encouraging Vacation Time
Remaining one of the most valued benefits by employees is vacation time, preferably paid. Taking a break from work and taking a vacation significantly reduces employee stress, lowers the risk of burn out, and increases their productivity levels upon return.
Keep in mind that part of having employee vacation time in place in your workplace is ensuring your employees actually take advantage of it. In some cases, this may mean forcing them out the door. If you allow employees to accumulate their vacation time, and have it paid out when they quit or retire, you discourage vacation and resultingly encourage overwork and burnout. Reframing your policies to not just present but encourage vacation usage is critical.
Encouraging Preventative Health Care
Providing free access to preventative health care methods is one of the most effective ways to keep your employees healthy. Employers who pay for health care for employees, directly influence and contribute to preventative care measures of their workers.
Preventative care today is tricky. If your business has shifted from remote work and your employees are now back in the office, providing access to COVID-19 testing through the office can be a good idea. Encouraging employees to follow the preventative measures suggested by health officials is also critical. Requiring your employees to wear face masks while in the office, enforcing social distancing measures between workspaces, providing hand sanitizer around the office and disinfecting surfaces regularly, and reducing interpersonal contact as much as possible, are all preventative measures key to maintaining employee health in these trying times.
Focusing on Mental Health
Over 300 million people suffer from depression globally. Depression and anxiety and other mental health-related issues costs the global economy an estimated $1 trillion each year in lost productivity. In the United States alone, mental health and substance abuse can cost a business between $80 and $100 billion annually. Other studies have shown that serious mental illnesses can cost American organizations up to $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.
The numbers are all there, and the cost of ignoring mental health in the workplace will only grow as more and more employees are facing mental health issues in response to the global pandemic. Though you have no control over this external factor, you do have the ability to control how you develop your workplace culture. Remaining optimistic and encouraging can help employees who feel lost or discouraged and providing the support systems needed for those who are struggling mentally is necessary if you hope to keep your employees at their best. Focusing on mental health in the workplace and prioritizing it as much as you prioritize physical health initiatives is critical.
One of the most common causes of workplace-related mental health issues is stress, which contributes largely to depression, anxiety, and burnout among employees. Examine your staffing levels. Are your employees overworked? Are managers trained properly so that they can adequately support their staff? Keep in mind that management goes beyond just doing the work, it involves leading the team. Managers who create toxic environments for their staff will also increase stress levels, damaging workers, lowering productivity and increasing turnover rates.
Providing an Employee Assistance Program
Especially now, recognizing that there will be external factors that cause your employees stress is essential if you are hoping to support employee health holistically. Employees may face marriage troubles, financial issues, injuries outside of work, even unexpected lawsuits. The pandemic is now one of the most troubling topics affecting the well-being of employees globally. Around the world, it is causing worry about people’s own health and the health of their loved ones, worry about their financial situation and security, and worry about the loss of support services they relied on. It is causing changes in sleeping and eating patterns for some, difficulty in concentrating in others, and the worsening of pre-existing chronic health or mental health conditions. Even if they are back in the workplace, your employees may still be feeling the negative effects of isolation and loneliness that come with the public health actions like self-quarantining and social distancing.
While Employee Assistance Programs existed as a measure to promote good employee health before the pandemic, they are becoming one of the most widely used strategies for organizations dealing with the above factors. Employee Assistance Programs help your employees find therapists, financial planners, lawyers, and any other well-being professional that may be able to help guide them through whatever is causing their stress. In response to the pandemic, it may be a good idea to incorporate more mental health crises support sources into your Employee Assistance Program. Do research into suggested outlets for mental and physical health support being provided globally and provide your employees with direct access to those outlets. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations, but now more than ever, staying on top of the best methods to reduce workplace stress should be one of your priorities when it comes to employee health and well-being.
When it comes to promoting good employee health, you need to research and understand the options, including the impact of not having any programs in place. Focus on the things that will make a difference for the well being of your employees, whether that be the implementation of revamped wellness programs, or even a complete reforming of the workplace environment itself. Your employees’ health matters, and the positive effects associated with prioritizing it are well worth the effort it takes to get there.
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