Employee wellness: good for business

By
Sunday, 14 August, 2005


Workplace safety, the prevention of illness and injury, and overall employee wellness are issues of considerable significance for business and communities globally. In Australia, NOHSC estimates that the cost to business of workplace-related injury and illness is AU$27 billion each year.

Successful businesses have healthy corporate cultures that value their employees. Knowing that more than 80% (ILO) of workplace injury and illness is directly preventable, the workplace presents as an ideal setting to address prevention and wellbeing.

Web-enabled wellness and prevention solutions can satisfy the criteria for changing behaviour and reducing costs. Creating materials that are specifically designed to engage the user in the learning process combined with the instant nature of the internet results in benefits includinc cost reduction, broad application, greater ability to maintain standards, a reduction in down time and improved reporting. E-Learning is significantly cheaper and more productive and can be delivered with more timeliness than classroom learning or traditional computer-enhanced teaching. Importantly, management information from the system provides vital data for targeted corporate interventions.

It has been demonstrated that companies which place workers at the core of their strategies produce higher long-term returns to shareholders than their industry peers. Ultimately it is about using the power within companies combined with the power of communication technology to harness the power of safe work.

Human capital is reflected in the capabilities, knowledge, experience, wellness and full potential of people in the business. For enlightened businesses it is obvious that the health of their employees provides a sound return on investment in terms of productivity and brand image and for corporate sustainability and success.

Workplace safety, injury and illness prevention and overall employee wellness is an issue of considerable significance for businesses and communities globally. For instance, the ILO (International Labour Organization) reports that on a per annum basis there are:

  • 270 million occupational injury incidents
  • 160 million occupational disease incidents
  • 2 million occupational injury/disease fatalities

These figures encompass both the developed and developing world. The economic costs are staggering. The ILO estimates that the annual cost of workplace-related injury and illness is 4% of the world's gross domestic product (GDP), which translates to US$1250 billion per annum. Other examples of business costs estimated by key health and safety authorities in their respective countries include:

  • US - US$171 billion per annum (NSC)
  • Australia - AU$27 billion per annum (NOHSC)
  • European Union - EU20 billion per annum (EASHW)

Stress, as an element of wellness, has very significant cost impacts. For example:

  • In the US it is estimated that the industry cost of stress complaints is $300 billion per annum (USSI)
  • In the UK the HSE reports that there were 13.4 million days lost due to stress in the 2001/2002 year
  • The European Union estimates that 1 million workers are absent each day due to stress.

The social cost of workplace injury/disease also needs to be considered. It is conservatively estimated that for every injured worker there are seven people in that worker's family, workplace and local neighbourhood who are impacted by the injury. This means 3 billion people each year are impacted, in some way, by workplace injury and illness. Social costs are also created by the diversion of funds that may otherwise be available to develop communities, to deal with the aftermath of the injury/illness/fatality. The ILO has stated that the loss of GDP resulting from the cost of death, injury and illness in the workforce is 20 times greater than all official development assistance to developing countries.

What makes this picture worse is that money is spent or lost dealing with the aftermath of incidents - a good analogy is the picture of this money being spent at the bottom of the cliff when people have already fallen over, rather than investing at the top of the cliff to prevent the fall in the first place.

'Health and wellbeing' means different things to different people. When asked "What does health and wellbeing mean to you?", the following are just some of the answers given:

  • Fitness
  • Nutrition
  • Yoga
  • Positive attitude
  • Contentment
  • Natural remedies
  • Balance
  • Rarely sick
  • Job satisfaction
  • Stress free

There are many elements to the feeling of wellbeing. They encompass:

  • Physical wellbeing
  • Spiritual wellbeing
  • Psychological wellbeing
  • Social wellbeing
  • Emotional wellbeing
  • Intellectual wellbeing

Culture can be defined as the shared attitudes, values, beliefs and practices of people at work. In health and safety this encompasses not only the magnitude of risks that employees encounter but also the necessity, practicality and effectiveness of preventative measures.

The Institute for Health and Productivity Management has identified factors that are common to successful companies that by definition have healthy corporate cultures. These encompass:

  • Effective human resource practices
  • Use of work-life balance strategies
  • Creation of employee assistance programs
  • Success in attracting and retaining valued employees
  • High employee morale and satisfaction

In business the first question asked is often "How will this benefit my business?". We can demonstrate why promoting prevention and wellbeing of employees makes good business sense.

  1. The ILO has stated that more than 80% of injury and illness in the workplace is directly preventable.
  2. Healthcare costs, including workers compensation levies, are a significant concern.
  3. The workplace is an ideal setting to address health and wellbeing.
  4. Empirical research shows that a culture that is health enhancing will result in greater employer productivity, satisfaction, motivation, creativity, innovation, stamina, resilience and adaptability.
  5. More and more companies concerned with sustainability and success are building world class wellness programs.

We already have the knowledge about how to prevent more than 80% of workplace injury and illness. The regulatory authorities have provided part of the answer and with increasing international cooperation the regulatory controls are continuing to evolve. Materials designed to engage the user combined with the instant nature of the internet provide benefits such as:

  • Significant cost reduction
  • Broad application
  • Improved and increased access to knowledge and information
  • Reduced down time
  • Greater ability to maintain standards consistency
  • Improved reporting

The important issue is therefore how organisations get the message through to employees so that is attended to, remembered and used. The key is to change the behaviour of both employers and employees. Research has indicated that this outcome is very much determined by what we say and how we say it.

In terms of "what we say" there are four factors relating to information content that increase the information being attended to, remembered and used.

  1. The appropriate quantity and degree of information.
  2. That the information contains practical advice.
  3. It needs to be personally relevant.
  4. The material should contain positive and interesting messages.

There are five factors relating to information delivery, "how we say it", that increase the amount of information being attended to, remembered and used. Critically the information must be:

  1. Accessible
  2. Presented more than once
  3. Self-paced
  4. Presented by a credible source
  5. Presented multi-modally

Web-enabled video streaming wellness and prevention solutions satisfy all the above criteria for not only changing behaviour but also reducing costs. The table outlines the important features of web-enabled solutions and how they enhance wellness and prevention promotion programs.

Web-enabled solutions provide a sound platform for the three pillars protecting human capital:

  • Healthy workplace environment
  • Disease prevention and health promotion
  • Corporate culture and organisational change

A major benefit is the management information from the system which provides vital data for targeted corporate interventions. Reducing health care costs has also been demonstrated with a benchmarking study indicating savings of up to 31% in health costs from best practice companies (Health and Productivity Management Consortium).

Other benefits include improvements in productivity, specifically for companies addressing the sources of risk. Studies in Australia and Germany have also demonstrated improved company profitability and sustainability evidenced by share market performance. In studying more than 100 German companies operating in 10 industrial sectors, researchers found "...a strong link between investing in employees and stock market performance. Companies which place workers at the core of their strategies produce higher long-term returns to shareholders than their industry peers" (Bilines, Wetzker, Xhonneux 1997).

This work was confirmed by the Westpac-Monash Sustainability index. Ultimately, healtheir employees experience fewer injuries and have a greater sense of fulfillment in their work and home life. This translates into reduced socio-economic impact on communities through fewer injuries and healthier community members.

Web-enabled wellness and prevention solutions satisfy the criteria for changing behaviour and reducing costs. Creating materials that are specifically designed to engage the user in the learning process combined with the instant nature of the internet results in benefits including cost reduction, broad application, greater ability to maintain standards, a reduction in down time and improved reporting. E-Learning is significantly cheaper and more productive and can be delivered with more timeliness than classroom learning or traditional computer-enhanced teaching. Importantly, management information from the system provides vital data for targeted corporate interventions.

Ultimately it is about using the power within companies combined with the power of communication technology to harness the power of safe work.

For further information contact Wilson People Management
Level 1, 70 Pirie Street, Adelaide 5000

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