Healthy business ties into wealthy business

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Workplace wellness and wellbeing play a key role in financial success. Generally, it’s assumed people earning more money will be healthier and happier. That’s not necessarily the case. Workplaces now are a lot more stressful and life has become more volatile. Money, as it’s often said, does not buy happiness. The best that can be said about it is that people can at least suffer in comfort.

Employee health affects more than just medical costs. A healthy workforce is a productive workforce and most healthcare spending is created by preventable, modifiable risks such as stress, high cholesterol, inadequate exercise and depression.

The impact on the bottom line is massive. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, absenteeism costs Australia $7 billion a year and presenteeism -- where people turn up to work not fully functioning because of some medical condition – is estimated to cost nearly four times as much at $26 billion in 2005-2006.

The 2004-05 National Health Survey found a third of working age Australians between 25 and 64 years or 3.4 million people, reported at least one of several chronic diseases – arthritis, asthma, coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, diabetes, osteoporosis or vascular disease.

Similarly, the AIHW Risk Factors and Participation in Work report found that 90 percent of working age Australians had at least one chronic disease risk factor and 72 percent of working age Australians had multiple risk factors such as chronic heart disease from such factors as stress, smoking, physical inactivity, diet, stress, alcohol, high blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity, cancer risk, diabetes or respiratory disease.

Risks from working conditions now include longer business operating hours and greater demand by employers for irregular hours and nonstandard work arrangements and the fact many employees face mental and emotional demands rather than physical demands within the workplace because of globalisation and technology. Further, work often spills into family life. Studies show conflicts between work and family life can have an impact on worker health and are associated with sickness leave and poor physical and mental health in employees.

Companies looking to start wellness programs can offer online information assessments and behaviour-change programs, executive and senior manager health assessments, annual health checks, voluntary one- on-one coaching for individuals with multiple risk factors such

as smoking, stress, obesity and issues with alcohol, vaccinations, health insurance subsidies, employee assistance programs, work-life balance arrangements, training, issue specific offerings such as weight reduction, physical environments with, for example, stairwells, providing fruit, having on onsite gym or subsidising gym memberships. The alarming figures about health risk would apply to people regardless of how well or poorly they are paid. Nor is it clear money makes us any happier.

An Australian Unity wellbeing index report What Makes Us Happy released last year showed women were happier than men. Married people are happier than others but that’s true only if they have made a good match. The elderly are happier than middle-aged folk and people in country towns are cheerier than city folk. Men’s sense of well being is closely linked to their earnings, women on the other hand are more sensitive to the cost of living.

But according to the study’s author, professor of psychology at Deakin University Bob Cummins, money can only make us happy under certain conditions. Once gross annual household income hits about $100,000 it would take lots more to make us even slightly happier. he argued that an extra $6000 for households on less than $15,000 would buy a lot more happiness. But households with annual income of more than $151,000 would have to double their money to be any happier.

That said, the Australian Unity index shows there is an almost perfect linear relationship between health and one’s sense of personal wellbeing. The two variables are heavily dependent. Put another way, healthier people are happier.

Companies and governments now recognise that a healthy workforce is an important part of business strategy. The Victorian Work Health initiative, funded and managed by WorkSafe Victoria, sees workers getting free and confidential health checks and the rolling out of workplace programs.

Worksite health promotion is an investment in a business’ most important asset, its employees. Benefits of these programs include attracting the most talented workers, reducing absenteeism, improving productivity and employee morale and reducing turnover.

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