Any health-minded person who has ever walked into a workplace kitchenette and been confronted with a platter of bagels or doughnuts placed there by a well-meaning co-worker has to have asked:
"Why aren't we putting two and two together and realizing that by creating a healthier work environment, including the foods the company buys for official events, it could cut down on its healthcare costs?"
Ever walked or driven by a hospital building that has a Wendy's or a KFC on the first floor? I have, and it has made me wonder: What exactly were those healthcare professionals thinking? They certainly weren't thinking about their workers' health or the health of their patients.
The numbers are out there, folks, and they are staggeringly high. The cost of obesity alone to U.S. companies runs into the billions of dollars annually. Some estimates claim it's as high as $13 billion. But there is plenty that U.S. companies can do and are doing to help.
Like it or not, the workplace is where we spend much of our waking hours. The impact of the workplace on our health and, in turn, on the quality of our work is unavoidable.
Leaders who run most U.S. corporations are no slouches in the intellect department (we'll exempt the CEOs of banks and the mortgage companies for now) and have realized this fact of life. They've begun to create and pay for wellness programs of all kinds to keep their employees healthy. The healthier the employees, the more likely they are to be happy and productive.
As a result, U.S. workers continue to be some of the most productive workers on the planet, and U.S. corporations do quite well because of it, thank you. Nobody's going broke offering wellness programs. The programs exist because the market demands them.
Dynamos like Richard Pimentel, an ardent proponent of corporate wellness and disability programs, have fought for the rights of the disabled, and shown dozens of companies that disabled workers of all kinds can be returned to the workplace and lead productive lives.
As work, through the blessing or perhaps the curse of technology, has entered our lives to a degree that far exceeds the involvement of previous generations, measures are being taken to insure that work and private life, which are increasingly intertwined, continue to be so to everyone's benefit.
And as we know, it's not only runaway obesity that employers are taking aim at. Savvy corporate and nonprofit employers are realizing that taking a head-in-the-sand approach to such mental and often work-connected problems as anxiety and depression is one of the fastest ways to wind up with an extended workers' compensation claim, or worse, a workplace incident that could run the gamut from a directors' and officers' liability lawsuit to other allegations of negligence and even wrongful death.
To bring us full circle, don't forget that it is U.S. companies that make those addictive television sets and video games that we Americans young and old are parking our increasingly wide derrieres in front of. U.S. workers make the ice cream, French fries and nachos that we gorge on like so many waddling penguins fattening on Antarctic krill and smelt.
And it's good old U.S. advertising and marketing companies that shoot those commercials showing deep-fried and breaded shrimp tumbling onto the table like manna from heaven and that give double-decker bacon, chili and avocado cheeseburgers the pouty, glistening appeal of a Kim Basinger.
We're all getting fat together and we can all shed the weight together. What better place to instill the importance of wellness and disability programs than in the workplace, where we already spend so much time and energy? Corporations owe a debt of gratitude to their employees, and employees owe it to themselves to remain of sound mind and body for as long as they can.
is senior editor of Risk & Insurance®.
(Read Cyril Tuohy's Counterpoint, "Wellness and Disability: A Drain on Profits.")
January 1, 2008
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