As we reflect, it comes as no surprise that employers not only in the mortgage but across all industries are concerned with their employees’ health and wellbeing. Healthy employees are generally happy employees, have a better focus and have higher levels of productivity than unhealthy employees. As a result, they experience more success in business. Employee Wellness programs have become incredibly popular during the last few years, offering everything from paid gym memberships to company running groups and yoga classes to having fresh fruit bowls in the break room.
While many employees are currently taking advantage of these wellness programs, there remains a substantial number of non-participants, almost 60 percent according to the HealthFitness survey conducted between 2015 – 2016. What is holding them back? The survey pointed to inconvenient programs options, a non-supportive company culture, plus trust and privacy concerns.
Employee health does have a significant effect on the success of companies. Employees at many companies in the mortgage industry, especially those in the technology space, have traditionally worked long hours, increased happy hour participation and not eaten a very healthy diet due to the nature of the job. The way an employee feels during the workday does impact his or her productivity and the quality of the work. In addition to the effect on the employee, poor health can actually impact the employer’s share of medical premiums. Employee Wellness programs have become a critical component to improving employee productivity and effectiveness and the company’s bottom line.
Chronic diseases and conditions are common among employees. They are costly, and in many cases, preventable. As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of 2012, about 50 percent of all adults had one or more chronic health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes, and 25 percent had two or more chronic health conditions. Between 2011 and 2014, 36 percent of adults were obese.
When employees experience health issues, productivity and work quality is often compromised. The most obvious impact is the simple matter of showing up to work. When employees experience health issues, their attendance can suffer and service to customers and contributions to company initiatives can often be impacted. The significance of this can be demonstrated in the total estimated productivity related cost of diagnosed diabetes in 2012. The cost was $69 billion in decreased productivity according to the CDC. These productivity costs were a result of employees being absent from work, being less productive while at work, or not being able to come to work at all. In addition to experiencing staffing shortages, poor employee wellness can lead to low energy levels and moodiness, resulting in negative interactions with customers causing decreased sales. Poor interactions with co-workers that can result from a lack of employee wellness can cause even further sub-standard customer service.
The company’s bottom line is greatly affected by the state of employee health in other ways. Employers carry a large share of employee medical expenses by way of the monthly premiums they pay. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2016, private industry employer costs for insurance benefits averaged 8.0 percent of total compensation. According to a 2016 Society for Human Resource Management Survey (HRMS), employers spent an average of $8,669 per employee annually on health care coverage. Chronic diseases account for a large percentage of health care costs in the United States. As reported by the CDC, total annual cardiovascular disease medical expenses were $189.7 billion in 2012-2013. Cancer care cost $157 billion in 2010. Diabetes and obesity have also been identified as chronic diseases common among people in the United States and the direct medical costs are significant. The total estimated direct medical cost of diagnosed diabetes in 2012 was $176 billion, and in 2008, $147 billion for obesity. Annual medical costs for people who were obese were $1,429 higher than those for people of normal weight in 2006. The main point I want to share is this – health insurers assign medical premium rates on employer plans in part based on the claims incurred by the employee population being insured. A company that covers employees with some of these chronic conditions will incur related medical claims and, as a result, significant increases in annual medical premiums.
Employers can take the reins by working with employees to improve their health by addressing certain health risk behaviors. As reported by the CDC, “Four of these health risk behaviors – lack of exercise or physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and drinking too much alcohol – cause much of the illness, suffering, and early death related to chronic diseases and conditions.” According to their reporting in 2015, 50 percent of adults did not meet recommendations for aerobic physical activity, and more than one in three adults had at least one type of cardiovascular disease. They also revealed that 40 percent of adults ate fruit less than once a day, and 22 percent ate vegetables with the same frequency, while 90 percent consumed too much sodium. Their reporting also estimated that 15.1 percent of adults smoked, and many adults reported binge drinking an average of four times each month where they averaged eight drinks.
Companies can implement programs to address wellness in the workplace, and enhance the effectiveness of their overall workforce. At LERETA, we have done just that. The foundation of our program rests on our employees completing an annual confidential health questionnaire and biometric screening. We then utilize the results reported by each of our individual work locations to implement program components designed to improve the health behaviors of our employees. Some of the tactics we put into place include:
Confidential Health Coaching – certified health coaches work with employees whose biometric screening results reveal the presence of Metabolic Syndrome to develop strategies for improvement. Metabolic Syndrome exists if you have at least three of the following – high triglycerides (cholesterol), low good cholesterol (HDL), high blood pressure, high blood sugar or high waist size.
Healthy Nutrition Support – we have partnered with a vendor that utilizes the biometric screening results for each employee to suggest healthy recipes for every meal of the day. Employees can simply select a type of food they are interested in, or key into the web portal the ingredients they have on hand in their kitchen to find a recipe that sounds tasty. Employees can then narrow down the recipes to those that can be made in 30 minutes, or ones that are kid friendly for example. They are even directed to local stores where the ingredients are available on sale or that offer home delivery.
Exercise Programs – hosting daily group walks during breaks and lunches to increase energy levels, mobility, with the added benefit of enhancing employee camaraderie have been very well received. We provide fitness trackers to employees to motivate them to increase their daily steps and exercise minutes. They receive wellness-related rewards for achievement, and are proud to “show the off” to their colleagues.
Health Education Workshops – employees are offered virtual seminars on various health topics such as diabetes management, “stretch and flex at your desk” techniques, and stress management strategies.
Wellness Challenges – employees form teams to compete in competitions geared toward fitness, nutrition, stress management, and weight control. Participants get a daily snapshot of the progress of each member on their team to increase the competitive spirit and as a result, healthy behaviors.
Every company should encourage their employees to engage in a wellness program which in turn will also help their bottom line. In exchange for participating in a required number of these wellness activities, one idea that is popular at LERETA includes employees earning a discount on their monthly medical premiums. Overall, the health of every employee is critical to the success of your business and the service that you provide your customers. Health is a state of mind and wellness is a state of being. Which state would you rather your employees have? As the American author Greg Anderson said, “Wellness is not a ‘medical fix’ but a way of living – a lifestyle sensitive and responsive to all the dimensions of body, mind, and spirit, an approach to life we each design to achieve our highest potential for well-being now and forever.”
About The Author
Brian Blake is First Vice President, Human Resources Director at LERETA. He leads the human resource team for LERETA. He has managed human resource and training functions in a variety of industries, including financial services, retail and healthcare for the last 30 years. Blake has made improving employee wellness a primary focus for the teams at LERETA.