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It’s National Employee Health and Fitness Month

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By: TJ Fjelseth, SPHR
May 11, 2012

Helping employees get healthier and helping to curb the rising cost of health care should be priorities for all employers.  And May, designated as National Employee Health and Fitness Month, is the perfect time for employers to start taking an active role in their employees’ health.

Not only will your employees and their families benefit, but your company’s bottom line can get healthier, too.

Take a look at the facts.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that approximately 75 percent of employers’ health care costs come from treating chronic, but preventable, conditions brought on by obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and lack of physical activity.  According to a recent Gallup poll, unhealthy workers are costing U.S. employers approximately $153 billion annually.

It makes sense that unfit employees are sicker, and that sicker employees cost businesses more money.  But what can an employer do to remedy the situation?  Instituting a strong employee health and wellness program can make a big difference in the overall health of an organization and its employees.

In fact, for every dollar spent on employee health initiatives, an organization can expect to see a return of $3 to $6 in reduced costs, improved productivity, reduced absenteeism and better medical insurance rates, according to the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA). 

Encouraging health and fitness can be something as simple as starting a walk-at-lunch club, providing healthier choices in the employee cafeteria, hosting presentations by health professionals and offering quick and easy blood pressure checks.  Employers can also partner with community groups and encourage participation in local fitness events.

Some employers offer gym memberships and other incentives for employees to lose weight and keep their blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar levels under control.  Whatever shape the employee wellness program takes, the result is healthier employees.  And healthier employees are more productive, take fewer sick days and help reduce insurance risk.

At Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BCNEPA), the results of our employee wellness programs have been dramatic.  Since 2008, we’ve noticed a 9 percent drop in inpatient hospitalization, a 7 percent drop in emergency room utilization and an overall medical care cost increase of just 3.6 percent for employees engaged in the wellness program.  Compare that with national averages of a 15 percent increase, 9 percent increase and 7.43 percent increase, respectively.  Clearly, investing proactively in employee wellness is paying off.

Because we understand the value of employee health and fitness, many insurers offer support for workplace wellness activities for their clients.  At BCNEPA, our Blue Health Solutions program is available to all covered employers to help their employees manage chronic conditions, improve fitness or simply start down the path of a healthier lifestyle.

This National Employee Health and Fitness Month, we encourage all local employers to make a commitment to their employees’ health – and to their company’s health – by implementing workplace health and wellness programs that can make a difference.

TJ Fjelseth, SPHR, is the Vice-President, Human Resources at Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania.