How to Turn Employee Health Challenges Into Opportunities

Regardless of size or net income, all companies are affected by employee health challenges. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed the costs related to employee absenteeism due to five conditions. The conditions included three risk factors, obesity, smoking, and physical inactivity, and two chronic diseases, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Shockingly, the CDC found that each risk factor or disease was associated with more than $2 billion in absenteeism costs.

American author Anne Wilson Schaef once said, “Good health is not something we can buy. However, it can be an extremely valuable savings account.” This nugget of wisdom certainly rings true for companies with regards to their valuable employees. Therefore, businesses should take a proactive versus reactive approach to their workers’ health challenges. Rather than viewing employee health problems as inconveniences, you can turn them into opportunities to build a strong company culture.

How to Turn Employee Health Challenges Into OpportunitiesTo help you accomplish this goal, we’ll first outline common health challenges sidelining American workers. Then, we’ll introduce the beneficial opportunities addressing employee health challenges create. Finally, we’ll provide you with several simple ways you can both support workers with health issues and help them to conquer them.

6 Common Employee Health Challenges

While every employee health issue is unique, the following health challenges account for numerous worker absences at American companies each year:

1. Stress

According to the American Institute for Stress, the vast majority of employees in the United States attest they’re stressed. Sadly, greater than a third proclaim their job is harming their physical or emotional well-being. A sobering 42% reveal job pressures are interfering with their personal or family lives. Experiencing prolonged stress can contribute to a host of health issues such as high blood pressure, obesity, and anxiety.

2. Heart Disease and Stroke

Heart disease and stroke are two of the most widespread and expensive health problems American workers face. The American Heart Association reports that cardiovascular disease causes an estimated 836,546 deaths annually in the United States. Astoundingly, this averages to around one out of every three deaths in America. Roughly 92.1 million adults in this country are living with some type of cardiovascular disease or the devastating after-effects of a stroke.

How to Turn Employee Health Challenges Into Opportunities3. Diabetes

According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. In 2015, approximately 9.4% of the population in this country, 30.3 million people, had this serious disease. The total cost of diagnosed diabetes in America in 2017 reached a mind-boggling $327 billion.

4. Obesity

The obesity epidemic in this country is staggering. According to the CDC, 39.8% of Americans were obese in the time frame ranging from 2015 to 2016. These numbers don’t even account for those who are overweight, but don’t have the required body mass index, BMI, to be considered obese. Being obese increases your risk for developing numerous health issues including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and osteoarthritis.

5. Tobacco Related Issues

The CDC reports that tobacco is still the largest preventable cause of death in America. More than 480,000 people in the United States die from cigarette smoking annually. Even worse, greater than 41,000 of these deaths result from exposure to second-hand smoke.

6. Mental Health Problems

The odds are good that someone in your business is struggling with a mental health problem. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost one out of every five American adults live with a mental illness. The symptoms of mental health problems can range from mild to severe.

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4 Opportunities That Employee Health Challenges Can Create

Now that you’re familiar with some of the more prevalent health issues your employees might face, here are a few opportunities addressing these challenges create:

1. Increased Productivity

Absenteeism is just one facet of lost productivity associated with worker health challenges. Presenteeism is an often overlooked, but equally or more significant, one. This issue occurs when employees come to work but underperform due to stress or illness.

2. More Trust

According to the Harvard Business Review, “The inherent nature of workplace wellness — a partnership between employee and employer — requires trust.” When employees see their employers investing in workers’ health, their trust that the companies they work for have their best interest at stake increases.

3. Enhanced Commitment

The Society for Human Resource Management reports 40% of workers are thinking about employment outside of their current company within the next year. According to Inc., management’s failure to value people is one of the main reasons workers really quit their jobs. One of the best ways to show you care about employees is to invest in their health. When your workers feel cared about, their commitment to your company’s mission will likely increase.

4. Improved Communication

Your personal health is an intimate issue. When workers see companies addressing their health concerns, they may be more willing to open up and talk about these problems with their employers. This improved communication might end up extending to other aspects of business operations.

How to Turn Employee Health Challenges Into Opportunities6 Ways Employers Can Help Employees Conquer Health Challenges

Here are some strategies to help you support your employees facing health challenges and help them conquer these issues:

1. Provide Onsite Fitness Programs

Not enough can be said about the power of fitness. Exercise can improve both your physical and mental health. Employers should consider stocking an underused board room with exercise equipment. If your budget won’t accommodate larger items such as treadmills, elliptical trainers, or rowing machines, consider investing in smaller ticket things like jump-ropes, exercise bands, hula-hoops, and dumbbells. You might also wish to have someone teach fun fitness classes during workers’ lunch hours.

2. Provide Access to Healthy Foods

You may have heard “you are what you eat” more times than you can count. However, this often used phrase couldn’t be truer. Eating foods laden with excess calories, sodium, sugar, and saturated fat can increase your odds of developing harmful high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and diabetes. Stock your break room with healthy foods like fruit, veggies, nuts, and yogurt. Consider revamping the types of foods you offer in vending machines. Avoid celebrating events at work with unhealthy foods like pizza or cake.

3. Secure the Services of an Office Doctor

Inc. recommends securing the services of an office doctor. This medical professional works off-site but visits the office once or twice each week to talk with employees about their health problems.

4. Establish Incentives to Be Healthy

Let’s face it. We often need a little nudge in the right direction in order to do something positive like exercising or eating healthy. When companies establish incentives to be healthy, they give their employees that extra little push they need. For instance, you could cover part of your workers’ health insurance premiums when they meet certain milestones such as having a healthy BMI or blood pressure level.

How to Turn Employee Health Challenges Into Opportunities5. Offer Financial Education

According to Forbes, a wonderful wellness initiative is providing employees financial education that is centered on the different stages of their lives and careers. When employees are unexpectedly hit with health problems, worries over the costs associated with them can be overwhelming. Providing workers dealing with health crises with valuable financial information might alleviate their stress and help them to feel more at peace with their situations.

6. Create Support Groups

According to the Mayo Clinic, support groups “may fill a gap between medical treatment and the need for emotional support.” Being in a support group might help an employee battling a health challenge feel less lonely, isolated, or judged. It can help workers talk openly and honestly about their feelings and improve skills needed to cope with challenges. You might want to create office support groups for those dealing with chronic diseases, obesity, or even a loved one’s illness or death.

What Will You Do With Your Company’s Inevitable Challenges?

At some point in their lives, virtually everyone is going to face one or more health challenges. How we deal with these issues affects all areas of our lives, including our jobs. Choosing to ignore employee health challenges won’t make them go away. In fact, it will likely exasperate them. By proactively addressing worker health issues, you can create lasting opportunities to build a strong company culture employees will be proud to be a part of.

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Becca Borawski Jenkins
Becca is a bit like a cat — she’s gone through a few “lives” to get to her current one (with which she’s quite pleased). She earned her MFA in Cinema-Television Production at USC’s famed film school, and her first career was as a music editor (if you’ve watched Scrubs, you’ve likely heard her work).

Becca found her way to career number two through martial arts. She began training in BJJ and muay Thai and started working with professional MMA fighters, building websites, working on fight promotions, and producing videos.

As a competitor in BJJ herself, Becca wanted to get stronger and fitter. In 2005, she became a student at CrossFit Los Angeles where she met WLC co-founders Andy Petranek and Michael Stanwyck. In only a couple years, she became CrossFit Level III Certified, left her entertainment career, and dedicated herself full time to coaching, serving as the Program Director of CFLA and founder of the CFLA CrossFit Kids program.

After seven years as a music editor and then eight years as fitness instructor, Becca segued to her current career — full-time editor and writer. She and her husband are full-time RVers and have a first-hand comprehension of the pros and cons of remote work.

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