Why is it that corporations take it upon themselves to do everything, everything for their employees? After World War II, companies--the good ones at least--thought nothing of footing the education bill for promising workers and managers.
Of course, it was boom times back then. The U.S. economy was growing fast, and U.S. firms were among the few left standing in a world wasted by war.
As the 1960s gave way to the 1970s and 1980s, companies began offering all sorts of subsidized memberships. For managers, recreation came cheap thanks to generous subsidies for golf club and tennis club memberships.
Workers, too, took advantage of corporate largesse: discounts at health clubs, price breaks at wholesale warehouses, tickets to the local opera house and the symphony, pennies for life insurance, and reimbursed relocation costs. And, of course, everybody got a pension. Those gave way to the 401(k), a lesser program for sure, yet still a company subsidy considering the match and the tax benefits.
In the early 1990s, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. The law, much of it well-intended and effective, gave protections to people who suffered from a disability, which used to mean a handicap that people were born with. In any event, yet another interest lobby was born, this time around protecting the rights of the disabled. Corporations had to look out for their interests as well.
Now wellness, disability and return-to-work programs are big business. There's an army of managers and consultants paid to collect and analyze data to help employees deal with stress, work-life issues, crises of one sort or another and what's known as behavioral health issues.
Disability is a growth industry. There are learning disabilities, behavioral disabilities, attention deficit disorders, eating disorders. The list keeps growing. Everyone's suffering from a disability, and there's no such thing as a normal employee anymore. There's not a Fortune 500 company operating today without an employee assistance program of some kind.
There was a time when employees were hired to assist corporations to produce and distribute whatever the company was in the business of making. Now it's the reverse: Corporations appear to be in the business of assisting those on its payroll with whatever problem or disorder they face.
All this wellness and disability stuff's a big game, folks, and it costs lots of money, money that companies in America can ill afford. General Motors, Boeing and Citigroup don't need to be worrying about employees with behavioral health issues.
GM needs to be worried about making cars people want to buy; Boeing about delivering planes on time and under budget; and Citigroup about lending to households who can repay.
Employers already offer workers enough benefits. Health coverage, don't forget, is a biggie. There's no government mandate forcing employers to offer health and dental coverage to employees.
If managers can't stay away from the bottle or the white powder, or if workers can't keep out of the White Castles, then maybe they ought to be kept out of the corporation altogether and not be hired in the first place.
Obesity is neither a disease nor a disability, folks. It's a lack of discipline, born of horrid eating habits and enriched foods.
When my gut starts to press up against my pant waist because I've been eating too many bonbons, its time to cut back and breakfast on bananas and oatmeal. I don't rush out and buy a pair of pants with the next waist size up; I don't plunge into the corporate policy manual looking for an employee assistance program.
Sure, some people become disabled on the job. They lose a finger or their hearing. That's a genuine disability and deserves attention. But, given the fact that most of us are now office trolls, how many of these cases occur? Not many.
Office workers suffering from ailments like obesity, stress and depression deserve attention too--just not from employers.
CYRIL TUOHY is managing editor of Risk & Insurance®.
(Read Dan Reynold's Point, "Wellness and Disability: A Needed Savior.")
January 1, 2008
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