Work-related health problems result in an economic loss for most countries of 4% to 6% of their gross domestic product, according to the World Health Organization of the United Nations.
Applying that to GDP figures calculated by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, work-related health problems would have slammed the U.S. GDP with losses of between approximately $820 billion and $1.2 trillion in 2018.
The World Health Organization said the health of workers is an essential prerequisite for productivity and economic development and that, in addition to general health care, all workers need services to assess and reduce exposure to occupational risks as well as medical surveillance for early detection of occupational and work-related diseases and injuries.
The organization said research demonstrated that workplace health initiatives can help reduce sick leave absenteeism by 27% and health care costs for companies by 26%.
When viewed in the context of the organization’s background information, it may come as no surprise that the largest employer in White Plains has been showing a special interest in promoting employee health. The employer happens to be deeply involved in health care: White Plains Hospital, which has a staff of more than 3,500.
According to Diane Woolley, the hospital’s chief human resources officer, “Healthy employees are equal to healthy output and productivity. The cost of replacing people when they’re sick, whether it’s short-term or long-term, can really devastate a business,” she told the Business Journal. “In health care, when we have a hospital to run, it really can impact patient care if we have a high number of staff that are not maintaining their own health.”
Woolley said the hospital maintains a robust occupational health department where a health care provider is ready to see employees. Employees are encouraged to use the hospital’s medical service providers for their own needs.
“We have waived all contributions and co-pays when they do use our providers so that helps them seek medical attention faster,” Woolley said. “There are three wellness coaches that work independently and privately with our employees. I have heard numerous accounts of how these coaches have changed peoples’ lives, whether it’s eating, disease management, help with sleeping issues. We also partner with many fitness and wellness organizations around the area to offer discounts to employees so they can take advantage of gyms close to their homes, not just in White Plains.”
Woolley said the hospital has started programs focused on the management of conditions such as diabetes and obesity that are structured around physical activity, nutrition, education and prevention.
“It’s very individual,” she said. “For some people it may be physical activity where they need some encouragement and some resources to help them exercise. For others it may be nutrition-related. With others, it may be that we notice that they have a lot of absences due to a condition they have. We can help address the issues they’re having and help them find solutions to being healthier.”
Woolley explained that any employer can use some of the same metrics the hospital uses in helping to gauge the effectiveness of efforts to help employees be healthier. These include changes in the number of sick calls and absences and analysis of health insurance claims. Also important to the hospital are patient satisfaction scores that might be comparable to feedback any business receives from its customers.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve seen an increase in our patients’ satisfaction scores, which means that the staff members are engaged and delivering quality care with empathy, with understanding. That’s not always the case if you have staff that are constantly out sick,” Woolley said.
Woolley recommended that any business owner who is not concerned with the health of his or her staff should be.
“Our No. 1 resources are human resources and without our staff and without their engagement and the well-being of our workforce we wouldn’t be where we are,” she said.