Employee Health the Latest Business Investment Strategy

There’s a growing business case for workplace health programs. Medibank reports healthy employees are nearly three times as productive as their unhealthy colleagues. Stress is one of the largest contributors – costing the Australian economy a whopping $15 billion a year in lost productivity.

People in Australia take 3.2 sick days per year for stress, resulting in $5.12 billion in lost productivity. But ‘presenteeism’ (when stressed people go to work but can’t function) adds a further $9.96 billion. The Family Medicine Research Centre’s ‘Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health program 2009’ reports that stress costs the Australian taxpayer $107 million per year in Medicare benefits – that’s almost $300,000 everyday! Forward thinking organisations acknowledge employee health and wellbeing programs as a legitimate accompaniment to risk management for good reason.

Absenteeism, employee turnover and worker’s compensation claims are common motivators for employers to develop wellness programs. Reducing these costs will contribute to the overall health not only of their staff, but of the company’s bottom line.

A 2004/05 Australian Bureau of Statistics survey claims as many as 77% of Australians reported at least one chronic health condition. Work Safe Australia’s most recent OHS statistics report details that in 2005/06, wholesale retail had a median total compensation payment of $59,200 compared to retail’s median total of $50,200. But there is an antidote. Corporate Bodies International state manager, Catherine Jarman, contends that for every dollar a business spends on an effective workplace health program, it reaps $6 in savings.

“Organisations need to put the ‘health’ back into occupational health and safety (OHS). In some organisations, OHS deals with core safety issues and little else. Others tick the health strategy box by offering simplistic models such as providing flu vaccinations.” Conducting an effective program requires a strong needs-based assessment. It’s a win-win scenario, says Catherine, who points to an analysis of 14 health programs that reported reductions in absenteeism of between 12 and 36%. Effective workplace health programs can have a positive effect on:

 

  • Job satisfaction and performance.
  • Absenteeism.
  • Recruitment and retention.
  • Company image.
  • Workers’ compensation claims.Implementing a health program

    Tania Moloney, managing director of Stressworks, tells AHJ: “There are any number of wellness program activities that can be implemented, from group seminars to health expos, individual dietary analysis and one-on-one health coaching. “You need to have a clear idea about what you want to achieve before you can start evaluating ROI. Targeted programs aimed at addressing high risk employees and ‘high risk factors’ in the business (for example injury claims as in the Danks example below) should be considered and implemented as a priority. The program should then be expanded to include also the medium and low risk groups of employees and business issues.”

 

Case study

In 2008 Danks’ took a closer look at upgrading its safety program. After a period of evaluation, review and investment in improving facilities and equipment, the company launched the Safety Net program. Since then, Danks has more than halved its number of lost time injuries (LTI) and days lost to LTI. During the same period, the company’s insurance premium has reduced significantly.

David Patton, Danks human resources manager, tells AHJ: “We devised a safety strategy that included a range of initiatives, hazard identification, education and training, reporting, safety audits and other means to prevent people from injuring themselves. “For every dollar spent in rehabilitation costs, you spend 10 times that in increased premiums. We’re starting to see benefits of our SafetyNet program, as to the ROI Catherine details, I’d say ‘potentially’. “You have to remember that an injured person affects everyone in the work place. Their colleagues may have to work overtime, the store may not be able to find a replacement with the same skills – and that puts pressure on the rest of the team too.”

Danks’ Safety Net program was instituted from the top down, but Work Safe and the unions were involved in the development of each State’s program and all employees were offered the chance to take part in a competition to design the logo. David explains: “The branding was essential, the strategy behind that equally important, as was the fact that employees understood and took on board that the company was trying to be more caring.” To help convey its message, Danks made a ‘Return to Work’ DVD and distributed it to staff members. They then took the DVD on the road, joined by the lady whose injury sparked the company’s initial efforts to upgrade its safety program. Understandably proud of its program, Danks has achieved a phenomenal ROI in a relatively short period.employeehealth