Risk management helps businesses identify threats and implement strategies to avoid damage. The same approach can be applied to developing a healthy, productive workforce.

This can have a significant impact on the bottom line.

Not only do unhealthy employees drive up health care costs, they also cost American employers $225.8 billion in productivity annually, or about $1,685 each, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 

There’s a clear link between an unhealthy lifestyle and many of the most prevalent chronic diseases including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. 

Research shows, however, that individuals who modify their unhealthy behaviors can become healthier as measured by biometric, laboratory and psychosocial measures, according to the Cleveland Clinic

By the numbers

Six in ten Americans have a chronic condition, according to a report published by Rand Corporation, and 42 percent experience comorbidity, meaning they have two or more conditions at the same time.

According to the CDC:

  • The nation spends $2.7 trillion in health care each year, and 86 percent of those expenditures are for people with chronic and mental health conditions.
  • In a one-year period, cardiovascular disease costs the U.S. $316.1 billion.
  • Cancer care costs $157 billion annually.
  • Diabetes costs reached $245 billion in 2012-2013.
  • Medical costs linked to obesity reached $147 billion in 2010.
  • The economic cost of smoking is estimated at $300 billion a year.
  • Overindulging in alcohol is linked to $249 billion in losses in workplace productivity, health care expenses and drinking-related crimes.

Tackling lifestyle risks

As an employer, it is imperative to address the four primary lifestyle risks that endanger the health of your employees. This can be done by creating new workplace norms and adopting policies that support healthy behaviors in four key risk areas:

Risk #1 Lack of physical activity: Less than half of all adults meet recommendations for aerobic and muscle-strengthening physical activity. 

Strategy: To get employees moving, make an active lifestyle a part of your corporate culture. This can be as simple as a walking challenge with individual or team competitions or offering lunchtime yoga classes. Also consider offering discounted memberships to local fitness centers as part of your total compensation package. 

Risk #2 Poor nutrition: Only four of ten adults eat fruit daily, and only two out of ten are eating vegetables. Nine out of ten are consuming too much sodium, which is directly linked to high blood pressure.

Strategy: Avoid the temptation to celebrate accomplishments with donuts and pizza. Instead make it easy for employees to eat healthy by stocking the vending machines with nutritious snacks and making fruit and veggies available in lunch rooms. Some large employers bring farmers markets to their campus weekly, and others sponsor lunch-and-learn cooking demonstrations. Also consider sponsoring Weight Watchers and other weight-loss resources to encourage employees to change their eating habits.

Risk #3 Tobacco use: More than 36 million adults smoke cigarettes, accounting for 480,000 deaths each year.

Strategy: Make your workplace a tobacco-free zone to discourage employees from tobacco use. Also publicize smoking cessation classes, and let employees know which smoking cessation prescriptions are included in your health care plan.

Risk #4 Alcohol overuse: Not all problem drinkers are alcoholic-dependent. U.S. adults report binge drinking an average of four times monthly, with eight drinks per binge. Drinking alcohol is responsible for 88,000 deaths each year.

Strategy: Help employees rethink their alcohol use, and offer programs and education to highlight the dangers. Also, put limits on the use of alcohol at work functions to avoid the perception of endorsing unhealthy activities. 

Need support?

With the cost of insurance premiums and medical claims at an all-time high, business leaders are increasingly engaged in stemming the tide by making changes in their workplace.

Contact your agent or carrier to learn what resources are available to help your company become more wellness-minded. 

Assistance is also available online. The CDC offers free tools and a Worksite Health ScoreCard to help employers assess their programs, identify gaps and adopt new ways to promote health. 

Although you cannot force employees to change, awareness and education can prompt them to move toward a healthier lifestyle.