Researchers See Real Worth in Wellness

Source: Crain’s Detroit Business
[via AHIP Wellness SmartBrief]

By Jay Greene

Dee Edington is optimistic that companies are starting to understand the relationship between healthy employees and profitability.

“I am positive about wellness. Companies have been adopting it more the past couple years, and it has grown exponentially,” said Edington, director of the University of Michigan Health Management Research Center in Ann Arbor.

The UM health management center has been conducting research on wellness and preventive care programs for more than 25 years.

. . . When it comes to using wellness programs to improve worker productivity, companies can embark on two economic strategies, Edington said.

“There is the “do nothing’ strategy. People will flow from high (health) risks to high costs,” he said. “The second is intervention to help people get healthy or help healthy people stay healthy.”

For the past 30 years there has been extensive research on the importance of exercise, good nutrition and wellness, Edington said.

“The data is out there, and we have tried some things, but not much has changed with disease states,” he said. “We don’t have any fewer people with diabetes, we have more obese people, not fewer, and there are no more people exercising.”

But over the past few years, attitudes have been changing, he said.

Companies are starting to look for solutions to rising costs and ways to improve worker productivity.

“You can fix the person by changing (health behaviors), but you have to fix the environment first. Otherwise you are putting a changed person back in the same bad environment,” he said.

Changing the environment can be accomplished by adopting company-sponsored wellness programs. These programs help employees identify high-risk health behaviors by conducting health risk screening tests. The tests measure cholesterol, blood pressure, stress and signs of diabetes or other potential chronic diseases.

Some companies offer smoking cessation support, stress management, massages, yoga, health club memberships or nutritional services.

“Companies are the only entities, besides families, that benefit from changes in employee health. It is so important for corporations to lead this charge for a healthy workplace,” he said.

In his book, Zero Trends: Health as a Serious Economic Strategy, Edington lays out five steps that companies should take on the road to implementing a worksite wellness program.

They are: creating a vision for wellness by senior management; aligning the environment with the vision; training managers and setting health and performance goals; educating employees and rewarding them to encourage sustainability; and developing measurements for return on investment.

“Return on investment has not changed all that much,” Edington said. “We promise ROI, but it is very difficult and often overpromised and underdelivered.”

Edington said a realistic ROI on wellness programs is 1.6 percent to 1.9 percent, although some companies that have high participation rates can get up to 6 percent.


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