Mark Ward, General Manager, UL EHS Sustainability, explains why securing worker wellbeing is vital to business profitability
Most people spend one-third of their adult lives in our workplaces. They do not leave health conditions at home when they go to work or leave their illnesses at work when they return home.
Addressing wellness in an integrated way can help employees manage complicated health issues, improving their lives and the lives of their families.
Companies with wellness perform better
Wellness programmes can also help businesses by easing the burden of healthcare costs, increasing worker productivity, and ultimately, improving business results. In fact, a study sponsored by Mercer and the Health Enhancement Research Organisation found that companies that invested in comprehensive wellness programmes outperformed the S&P 500 Index over six years.
The dangers of undiagnosed Type 2 Diabetes
The costs of chronic illness have skyrocketed over the last several decades. Let’s look at a single illness, Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes mellitus is an endocrine disorder wherein the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to safely manage blood sugar levels. Sustained high blood sugar levels can cause nerve and organ damage, eventually leading to blindness, liver and kidney damage, amputation of the extremities, and even death. It’s a serious and growing problem, exacerbated by sedentary lifestyles, poor nutrition choices, and an increasingly aging population.
More concerning, many individuals with Type 2 diabetes have no idea they have it. Symptoms, such as excessive thirst and increased urination, can be easily missed. The only accurate way to uncover the disorder is by a blood test.
Recently published information, based on data from the Health Survey for England, estimates that 10.7 per cent of the English population (approximately 5 million people) are at increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes UK estimates that nearly 6 million people across the UK fall into this category.
According to the HSCIC, using data from the Health Survey in England, 22 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women in England have a very high risk of developing long-term health problems (based on NICE guidelines on prevention, identification, assessment and management of overweight and obesity) due to an increased BMI and an increased waist circumference. Using these two risk factors alone, based on the adult population, 5.54 million men and 6.36 million women would be at risk of Type 2 diabetes – 11.9 million people in the UK.
How employers can help
In many cases, Diabetes is preventable and usually manageable, if people know their risk factors and have the resources available to manage it. This is where a comprehensive workplace wellness programme can help. Employers can support staff by offering risk assessment screenings, nutrition counselling, exercise and wellness initiatives, and a commitment to healthy living.
The National Diabetes Audit 2012-13 found that only 35.9 per cent of all people with diabetes in England and Wales are achieving the targets recommended to reduce their risk of developing diabetes complications. In Type 1 diabetes this is only 16.2 per cent and 37.4 per cent in Type 2.
Wellness programmes benefit both employer and employee
Wellness programmes have become an important tool for many companies interested in improving their employees’ health, such as helping those with diabetes to reduce their risk of complications. It’s good for the employees—improved health, better job satisfaction, and sometimes monetary incentives—and good for the employers—reduced sick days, higher productivity, and decreased overall health costs.
It’s not all about reducing risk factors for Diabetes, but improving overall health. Wellness programmes can offer health screenings for other conditions like hypertension and high cholesterol, access to gyms or other fitness facilities, and interaction with professionals who can assist with nutrition, smoking cessation, or mental health wellness. Even a simple eyecare benefit, a legal requirement for many staff anyway, can be a huge ally in detecting serious health conditions.
Given the spiraling costs of employee healthcare and the known benefits of workplace health promotion programmes, any employer who hasn’t added a wellness programme may be missing an opportunity to better the lives of employees while improving their bottom line.