Chronic Disease in the Workplace – How Employee Wellness Program Can HelpFebruary 5, 2020
Chronic diseases are those which have a long course of illness. Most chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and stroke, are the leading cause of death. The non-fatal chronic conditions, such as depression, musculoskeletal disordersand psychological disorders are also major sources of disability. Furthermore, worksite conditions also contribute to the development of chronic diseases through hazardous job exposures, high job demands, and inflexible work schedules. Lifestyle risk factors and individual health behaviours that promote the development of these illnesses mainly include tobacco consumption, poor diet, lack of physical activity and alcoholism.
Workers spend much of their time at work where they are continuously exposed to the risk factors. Therefore, the culture of health promotion and maintenance of wellbeing at the workplace plays a huge role in improving workers’ health. Employee Wellness Programs are formulatedto improve the health of workers and it is an effective way to promote lifestyle modification, enhance health-promoting behaviours, reach a large segment of the population, and reduce chronic disease risk factors. Such health initiatives have been recommended by the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the National Institutes of Health, besides the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Benefit for the employer
Advantages of an Employee Wellness Program far exceed the financial burden, time and effort invested in it. Chronic diseases and their management are the leading drivers of health care costs for employers. The medical cost reductions as a result of healthier living are much more than the amount invested in worksite health promotion programs. It directly lowers the cost of employee insurance premiums and compensation claims thereby improving company finances.
Other benefits of the Employee Wellness Program include reduced absenteeism and lower indirect costs if workers miss less work because of illness. In addition, a healthy body and mind improve employee’s attitudes toward work and builds a strong work culture, unlike unhealthy living which reduces worker productivity.
The various approaches that can be adopted for creating a healthy workplace culture includes-
Promoting Health Behaviour among Employees
It can be doneby conducting screening camps, organizing seminars on the need for fitness and health education programs aimed at preventing and managing common health issues among the workers.
Redesigning the workspace and environment
As the workers spend a long time in the office setting, designing workspace to obtain a healthy environment should be of utmost importance. A healthy office environment can be developed by taking simple care steps such as increasing indoor plantations, keeping workspace well ventilated, comfortable seating plan, thermal regulation according to climate, minimizing the use of noisy equipment, installing devices with noise cancellation and air purifiers.
In addition, physical workplace hazards such as carbon monoxide, carbon disulphide, mercury, lead, and other heavy metals should be kept to a minimum by replacing office supplies that release harmful substances.
Addressing Physical Inactivity
Employers can promote physical activity by providing discounted gym memberships, providing breaks during the day to walk around and leveraging wearable technology to help workers track and improve their physical activity levels. Employers can also provide onsite physical activity courses such as yoga, zumba or aerobics. Conducting awareness programs about advantages of being physically active to the employees may help to improve general health of the employees. There are several ways to protect our joints to stay fit and healthy.
In addition, meetings that include long sitting can also be replaced with meetings on the walk and prolonged desk jobs at the office can be prevented by redesigning the workstation to encourage regular activity.
Curbing Tobacco consumption
Curbing the consumption of smoking and smokeless tobacco in the workplace begins with creating and implementing a clear tobacco cessation policy. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has made several recommendations that should be reflected in workplace tobacco-cessation policies. Implementation of such policy would require-
- Establishing smoking rooms and declaring the general office space to be a smoke-free zone.
- Provide comprehensive professional tobacco-cessation programs and appropriate support for workers who smoke or chew tobacco, in order to get them to quit.
- These initiatives should also include therapeutic interventions to manage complications of nicotine withdrawal.
The importance of integrating healthy food habits in an employee wellness program cannot be over-emphasized. The goal of promoting healthy nutrition in the workplace can be achieved by increasing the availability of healthier food options in the office canteen, snacks provided in conferences and choosing the menu of lunch meetings wisely. Additionally, the consumption of unhealthy beverages like tea, coffee, and carbonated drinks needs to be discouraged by providing healthier alternatives like green tea, juices, coconut water etc.
All in all, employee wellness programs are beneficial for the employee as well as an employer by ensuring a healthier life to the former and more productivity to the later. The implementation of such a program needs a multidisciplinary systematic approach and conscious effort from the management and staff at all levels. It should be kept in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for employee wellness programs. The strategy should be chosen based on what works best for the employees at a particular workplace to produce the desired results.