The ultimate goal of workplace wellness programs isn’t just to reduce direct spending on care, but also to have employees that are healthier overall. Of course, in the long term, this should also ideally reduce direct costs, but focusing on direct costs alone overlooks some of the most substantial and easiest-to-influence ways that health affects an organization’s workforce. Health is a significant driver of indirect costs, most notably through absenteeism (lost work time) and “presenteeism” (unproductive time spent at work). For example, the American Diabetes Association estimates that diabetes alone cost the United States $245 billion in 2012, of which 28% ($69 billion) was attributed to the indirect costs of absenteeism, lost productivity, and early disability and death.[i]
Well-designed workplace health promotion programs tend to have the potential to impact both direct and indirect costs. The drivers of indirect costs, however, apply to a broader definition of health than can be captured by biometric markers or health screenings. To truly address absenteeism, and especially presenteeism or lost productivity, employers would be wise to recognize not only the physical aspects, but also the emotional, financial, intellectual, and even spiritual facets of health. By taking this comprehensive view of the overall wellness of their employees, employers have the potential to increase productivity and employee satisfaction, and even to reduce rates of employee turnover.
[i] “Statistics About Diabetes” (American Diabetes Association, March 6, 2013), http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/.