Business Workshop: Workplace wellness works

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Workplace wellness programs have the potential to reduce healthcare costs by 18 percent -- and even more for older workers. That's the results of a new study by The Vitality Group.

The study analyzed seven health care challenges usually addressed in workplace wellness programs, including alcohol abuse, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, poor nutrition, physical inactivity and smoking.

Researchers computed the affect on average medical costs if employer wellness programs reduced all seven heightened risk factors to "theoretical minimums." It found that the total medical expenses for all working age adults could be reduced by about $650 on average, or about 18 percent. The older the employee, the greater the cost savings; up to 28 percent for retirees.

The study didn't measure the value in the increase in productivity gained when employees are healthier. Employers have long known that the cost of employing unhealthy workers is high. With rising health insurance rates, improving the health of workers has become a key concern for many businesses.

There are a number of different types of wellness programs an employer can introduce to the workforce:

• On-site classes

• An on-site fitness facility

• Healthy lifestyle coaching

• Participation in health fairs and screenings

• Fitness and health evaluations

• Company fitness-related events

• Corporate sports leagues

Both large and small businesses tend to have their corporate wellness programs designed and run by health-and-wellness social service agencies, insurance carriers and healthcare providers. Using the expert will ensure that the program is focused on meeting the particular wellness needs of the workforce and that the people who implement the program are qualified and experienced.

-- Rig Riggins, the Y of Greater Pittsburgh, rriggins@ymcapgh.org

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Business workshop is a weekly feature from local experts offering tidbits on matters affecting business. To contribute, contact Business Editor Brian Hyslop at bhyslop@post-gazette.com.


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