Contributors: Dr. Hideyuki Ban, Hitachi Corporation; Ms. Betsabeh Madani, Corporate Business Strategist, Cerner Corporation; Prof Jonathan Skinner, Dartmouth College; Profr Scott Wallace, Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth College
To improve the health of employees, employers worldwide can implement strategies by taking an active role in creating health benefits, designing a work environment, and influencing the delivery of care. By considering the leading trends in each of these areas, the consequences of employers’ actions on the health of employees, and the implications for success, employers can create a strategic approach to employee health.
Health or ROI on health?
What are the key healthcare strategies that corporations can use to create value for both employer and employees? For a start, the goal should be better overall health and the alignment of strategic healthcare plans around this objective – as opposed to merely attempting to measure or validate a return on investment.
Ensuring that one’s employees are in optimum health is not merely a good health strategy. People who are healthy (which implies a healthy lifestyle) are less expensive for everyone: society, the employer, and the employee himself/herself – than people in poor health. The focus should be on the health impact of programs instead of the financial impact for the organization.
Helping it all grow
In order to formulate appropriate strategies, it is first essential for corporations to understand their employees’ unmet health needs. The question “what is causing your employees to be unhealthy?” should be the very first question to address. After identifying obstacles to employee health, corporations should create a portfolio of initiatives to address an entire range of needs – as opposed to having a single program that may only work for a small subset of employees.
Lifestyles are communicable and successful strategies have committed and visible leaders, so ensuring a positive tone from the company’s top executives often guarantees good roll out and a good health culture. Changing the culture of health within an organization, by starting with its leadership, is a simple measure that can greatly influence other employees.
Motivating people to do it
A pragmatic approach also contributes to successful ownership of an employee healthcare program. An easy-to-use system or interface, for example, can help facilitate transitions in lifestyle changes, enable employees to work more efficiently, and help employees improve their long-term health prospects.
Making these systems convenient and easy-to-reach are very important considerations. Health directly affects every aspect of a person’s life, and in order to maintain good health over the course of a lifetime, a healthy lifestyle must fit into a person’s other activities without requiring overwhelming changes in behaviour.
When stressful situations are encountered, maintaining significant changes that are out of character can be too challenging to be sustainable. Establishing a reward system or friendly competitions for being active and living healthy can motivate employees and encourage positive lifestyles.
Finally, the issue of time is important. Experience has shown that participation rates in health programs increase dramatically when activities can be performed “on the clock” rather than on an employee’s personal time.
Two success stories: Hitachi and Cerner
In Hitachi’s case, its Central Research Laboratory set up a weight-loss program utilizing an Internet-based support system to help both medical staff and other participants record and find the relationship between weight and behaviour. Over 1,200 employees participated, with positive results including a 30% reduction in annual medical fees. At Cerner, the company implemented a strategic approach to health management and 88% of the firm’s 14,500 employees currently participate in its comprehensive programs. Periodic reevaluations of the overall program have resulted in premium increases of only 1.6% over the past five years, compared to the national average of premium increases between 7-10% in the U.S. Additionally, Cerner’s total out-of-pocket spending per member per month on employee health for the past five years went down by 13% despite more than 100,000 visits to on-site or affiliated clinics. As a result, the company estimates that it saved US$10 million in lost productivity.
- The goal should be better health. It is important to align strategic healthcare plans around the goal of better health as opposed to trying to measure or validate mere return on investment
- A first step is to understand the unmet health needs of employees
- A good health culture starts from the top
- Convenience and reach, company time, easy-to-use systems, and even leisure at the workplace are important considerations.
Written by Prof. Edward yaki from the proceedings of the Council on Business & Society global forum, hosted by Keio Business School, Tokyo: Health and Healthcare at the crossroads of Business and Society
- The CIPD: lack of wellbeing strategy and its impact on business and employee health
- The OECD on employee mental health and wellbeing
- The ILO on occupational safety and health
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