What Sophisticated Employers Know

Who are the enlightened and sophisticated employers? According to Andy Webber, President of the National Business Coalition on Health, they are the employers who “see health management not as an operating cost but an investment in workforce health and productivity.”

ZeroTrendsDee W. Edington wrote Zero Trends with the purpose of demonstrating that the improved health status of employees will not only reduce healthcare costs for the company, but also increase performance and productivity in the workplace. His book is about a new model of healthcare that defines healthcare as a combination of illness and wellness strategies that affect the bottom line of organizations far beyond simply striving to reduce the cost of insurance premiums. He contends “health management is a health strategy, but equally important, health management is a business and economic strategy.”

Avowing the cost of health is less than the cost of disease, Edington maintains that an unhealthy workforce cost an organization more than just the expense of treating illness. The cost of poor health hits employers through absences, short-term disabilities, workers’ compensation, ineffectiveness on the job and impact on co-workers. Only when we grasp these outcomes of poor health can we understand the total value of health.

“Any healthcare strategy short of maintaining a healthy workforce is doomed to fail.”

In order to honestly grapple with the findings of Edington and the University of Michigan’s Health Management Center, there has to first be an upgrade to the definition of health. Most define health as “the absence of disease.” However, a much stronger definition of health is “energy and vitality.” Employers don’t simply want employees who are staying out of the hospital. Rather, they want employees who are energized, engaged and thriving in the workplace.

What can an organization do to increase its chances of maintaining a healthy workforce?

  • Focus on helping the healthy to stay healthy. As Dr. Brent Pawlecki affirms, “It’s very difficult to bring someone from an unhealthy risk score to a healthy score. It’s much easier to keep someone healthy.” When it comes to creating a healthy environment in the workplace, Edington outlines 4 engagement levels. The first level is the “Do-nothing” level where there is very little, if any, effort put into maintaining a healthy workforce. With the natural progression from low risk to high risk, disease will eventually follow along with higher cost.  Therefore, it is just as important to keep employees healthy as it is to provide treatment for them when they are sick.
  • Create a work environment that is conducive to health. Edington shares “the way to keep people healthy is to first create a facilitating environment and then provide employees with the resources to change the behaviors that threaten their health.” One of the primary reasons major airline accidents are so rare is that there is a culture within the industry, (fueled by strict regulations), that focuses on maintenance and prevention. Should we not be creating a culture in our workplaces that encourages, and even dares to mandate, health in order to prevent the crashing and burning of employee health? As Albert Einstein said, “Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.”
  • Create a Culture of health led by the organization’s top leadership. It has been said that being healthy isn’t the result of luck, it’s a choice. The same can be said of the health of an organization’s workforce. It is a choice and it is a choice that has to be made at the top. It is imperative for leadership in the organization to integrate workplace strategies for health into the corporate culture. Margie Blanchar accurately states “People look to the top to see what’s important. When leaders include health and well-being as a major strategic initiative and are serious about it, good things happen.” Edington provides Five Fundamental Pillars of a successful management strategy. These 5 pillars are integral to creating a culture of health:

Senior Leadership (including the CEO & CFO)

Operations Leadership (including HR)

Self-Leadership (the employee)

Rewards for Positive Actions

Quality Assurance

  • Develop wellness plans that lead to optimal results. Many organizations have some type of wellness program. Yet, not all wellness programs are created or executed equally. One study suggest that less than 5% of wellness programs incorporate the range of best practices that are known to bring optimal results. While larger employers are most likely to be able to measure the success of health management, even the smallest of organizations can adopt wellness initiatives that will lead to positive outcomes.

Successful organizations of the future will move beyond simply finding the best benefit plan and insurance policies. While a common historical trend among employers is to let the employees bear the blunt of all cost savings in regards to insurance premiums, these maligned strategies only provide temporary relief to, what Edington calls, “a terrible day of financial reckoning.” Any healthcare strategy short of maintaining a healthy workforce is doomed to fail.

For more detailed information on how to develop a health management plan as a strategic business plan you are encouraged to read Zero Trends, Health as a Serious Economic Strategy by Dee W. Edington. Zero Trends can be purchased from The Health Management Research Center at the University of Michigan.


This post was originally published on December 9, 2011 in my Jack In The Team Box HR and Leadership  Blog.


About Jack W Bruce
Jack W Bruce Jr. is a novice blogger, husband and father of four, living in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a lover of God, a reader and a wanna-be runner. Jack’s blogs include www.jackwbruce.wordpress.com and www.jackintheteambox.com. Jack can also be found on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/jackwbruce.

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