Business of Well-being

Getting to the Heart of Employee Wellness and Health

February is the American Heart Month or the heart health awareness month, sponsored by the American Heart Association. The month of February is dedicated to heart health as a reminder to employers to pause and reflect on how heart healthy their employees are. Cardiovascular disease, which includes stroke, heart attack, and hypertension, is the leading cause of death in the United States accounting for 1 in every 4 deaths in the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that about 735,000 Americans suffer from a heart attack every year.

The Economic Burden of Heart Disease in the US

The impact of heart disease is not only in its significant morbidity but its ripple effect on individual finances, organizational and business profitability, and economic growth. When an employee develops certain complications of heart disease such as coronary artery disease in which the blood vessel supplying blood to the heart are obstructed, the expenses incurred are usually massive and can be quite cumbersome.

From costs of ambulance rides, diagnostic tests, hospital admissions, to cost of surgical and medical treatments, heart disease remains a huge financial burden to patients. Additionally, the poor personal and workplace productivity that results when an employee develops heart disease poses a huge financial strain on employer business. According to the CDC, heart disease costs the US $200 billion every year.

This cost includes the cost of medical services, drugs, and productivity loss. Expense on heart disease accounts for 30% of Medicare expenditures, and since over 50% of employees with Medicare have heart disease, this will ultimately fall back on the source of Medicare funding - Tax. Higher taxes means businesses will lose a substantial amount of money each year.

Employees who suffer from heart disease have to take additional days off work and are usually less productive because of the nature of the illness. Also, the premature death of some employees from heart disease reduces the general output of any organization. These constitute the indirect cost of cardiovascular disease to the economy.

It is reported that on average, an employee suffering from cardiovascular disease costs his or her employer almost 60 hours and over $1,100 more in productivity loss than an employee without the disease.

The Way Out

Many cases of heart disease are preventable, and small changes will have a huge impact not only on individual health but on employee performance and business profitability. Some forms of cardiovascular diseases are preventable and tips to preventing them include;

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes five days a week
  • Avoid active and passive smoking
  • Avoid excess alcohol consumption
  • Minimal intake of red meat and foods high in saturated fats

Incorporating at least one of these changes into workplace wellness programs can make a considerable change in an individual's health, and ultimately, employee performance. In a report by Cornell University, a study done in 2008 showed that investing $10 per person annually on preventive measures such as increased physical activity, incentives for smoke cessation, and encouraging proper nutrition will produce an ROI of $5.60 for every $1 invested.

Cutting down employee risk of heart disease leads to increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, lower turnover, higher ability to attract a quality workforce, and reduced medical cost. Heffernan Insurance Brokers notes that a sure way to promoting heart health at the workplace is to build a culture of wellbeing, not just creating isolated initiatives. According to Heffernan Brokers, there are four keys to building a culture that promotes heart health in the workplace. These include;

  • Leading by example
  • Supporting employees' efforts at achieving good health
  • Providing incentives for actions geared towards good health
  • Giving employees work based on their skills per time to avoid unnecessary stress

Ways to Promote Heart Health in the Workplace

If you want to boost your employees' performance by preventing heart disease, here are a few vital tips to incorporate into your wellness program.

1. Physical activity -

Encourage workers to take, for example, 10,000 steps daily, and work their way up as they can tolerate. This may be done by encouraging employees to take the stairs, park far away from the office door, or incorporating mid-day walk into lunchtime routine.

2. Gym Membership -

This is a very vital part of wellness programs in the workplace. Employers could partner with a gym to provide their employees with fitness services.

3. Promote Healthy Nutrition -

Workplace cafeteria, vending machines, and lunch break snacks should be stocked with heart-healthy foods such as dark chocolate, citrus fruits, blueberries, oatmeal, potatoes, soy, nuts, broccoli, spinach, kale, coffee, salmon and other fatty fish, and flax seeds.

4. Institute Group Breaks -

As part of workplace wellness programs, employees should be allowed to take short breaks from work each day to stretch. This is especially necessary for workers who are often sedentary such as employees at a call center.

5. Leverage Technology -

Fitbit, for example, offers wearable devices such as wireless fitness headphones and watches to provide motivation and heart monitoring. Fitbit also has an app to motivate users providing individualized fitness and dietary plans. Charity Miles also provides people with incentives for engaging in fitness exercises. Charity miles pay people to walk, cycle, and run. The app tracks the distance covered and the earnings are calculated.

6. Challenge your Employees -

As part of workplace wellness, employees should be tasked with setting personal fitness goals and sharing their progress with other employees. The purpose of this is to build a culture of health in the workplace and encourage others to engage or persist in regular fitness exercises.

Workplace wellness programs play an integral part of preventing cardiovascular diseases. Keeping your employees heart healthy will ensure they function at peak performance which will not only earn your company a higher return but will also assist in cutting financial loss.

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