BY JOE HOSHAW Jr.
When it comes to overall employee wellness, Wayne County companies are at the back of the pack in nearly all categories when compared to the rest of the counties throughout Michigan.
Ruth Sebaly, chairwoman and project manager for healthy communities at Oakwood Healthcare, said that not only affects the overall health of county residents, but also has a detrimental effect on productivity and profits for businesses.
Sebaly, one of the leaders of the Trenton Healthy Communities Coalition formed earlier this year jointly between Oakwood and the City of Trenton, is working with other coalition members to help businesses encourage and promote healthier workplace habits for the employees.
As part of her mission to spread the word, she spoke to the members of the Trenton Rotary Club — many of whom either own or run businesses — at one of the club’s meetings last month. The coalition also is planning a public session for local businesses at City Hall for 8-9 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30, where it will provide a broad spectrum of ideas and information on how to support and encourage employee wellness in the workplace (See related article on Page 15 for additional details).
“What is wellness? It’s an active process,” Sebaly said. “You have to set the tone for a healthy workplace. That starts with modeling and setting an example.”
Among some of the detrimental effects of poor employee health she outlined were reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, increased “presenteeism” (coming to work sick), increased medical costs, reduced functioning and a decreased quality of life.
In Michigan, she noted, physical inactivity results in the loss of 20 days per worker, costing the state $8.6 billion annually. Absenteeism also costs the United States an estimated $118 billion annually in medical expenses and lost productivity, and those workers who come to work sick costs an estimated $180 billion annually.
At the heart of these numbers are a number of chronic health problems that have increased dramatically in recent years, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood-pressure/hypertension and cancer.
Many of those issues, she said, are directly associated with certain lifestyle behaviors, including physical inactivity, poor diet, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption — all of which are preventable and/or modifiable.
The effects on the economy are believed to be massive. Prevalence of chronic diseases has caused an overall increase in health care expenditures, resulting in an extreme economic burden. The United States also has the highest gross domestic product percentage of health care expenditures in the world — but some of the worst health outcomes.
Health care spending nationally is estimated to reach $4.2 trillion by 2017, which will equal $13,100 per person annually and 20 percent of the GDP, Sebaly’s presentation noted.
Michigan will spend an estimated $18.7 billion in 2015 on health care expenditures, which is equivalent to 21 percent of all state spending. Also, 75 percent of annual health care costs account for the treatment and diagnosis of chronic diseases
The World Health Organization defines “wellness” as an active process of being aware and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. It’s a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
Sebaly said employers can plan a vital and constructive role in encouraging wellness, and not only have healthier employees, but have a more successful business as well.
Companies that promote employee wellness incur a wide range of benefits, including increased employee productivity, reduced absences, reduced health-related costs, improved employee morale, an improved company reputation, increased employee retention and an improved workplace environment and relationships.
There are many organizational benefits as well, including having a leg up on hiring the best workers. In fact, one survey found that 88 percent of employees have described access to health and wellness programs as an important factor when pursuing a job.
About 45 percent say they stay at their jobs because of wellness programs offered by their employers.
Sebaly said data also shows that medical spending falls by $3.27 for every $1 spent on promoting employee wellness, and the cost of absenteeism drops by $2.37 per each wellness dollar spent. Companies with active wellness programs, she said, have averaged $700 in savings per employee, per year.
The return on investment is not immediate, but the cost of encouraging healthier lifestyles is not prohibitive, even for smaller companies. Most start to see positive return within a couple years. And the return on investment starts to increase after the first few years.
The cumulative benefits of instituting an employee wellness program are pretty substantial, even at the beginning, Sebaly said.
Promoting employee wellness, she said, begins with creating a healthy workplace culture that includes a supportive work environment where employees understand that their employer values their wellbeing.
This can be attained by encouraging open and positive communication, identifying the health needs and preferences of the workers and tailoring wellness programs to their specific needs.
Sebaly said one of the key ways to promote employee wellness is for company leadership to set a positive example by taking an active role, and make health a priority for the company as a whole.
Sebaly listed several “simple ways” to encourage health and wellness. They include encouraging using the stairs, placing motivational signs near elevators, providing healthy meal and snack options, stock lunchrooms with fresh produce, remove soda and junk food from vending machines, discourage people from coming to work sick, provide ergonomic chairs, keyboards, etc., provide on-site vaccinations and implement a walking club during lunch.
Sebaly said “walking meetings” are gaining popularity and help counteract the excessive time many office works spend sitting.
“You should be up and moving one hour for every two hours that you sit,” she said.
Other ideas: Increase your steps by sending printouts to a printer that’s further away or parking farther from an entrance.
Some additional moves employers can make to promote wellness include implementing workout classes on-site, scheduling nutrition/fitness seminars, going outside and walking during breaks and developing workplace health challenges that offer some type of incentive.
Some possible classes include those that target smoking cessation, stress and mental health, and alcohol and substance abuse.
The Trenton Healthy Community Coalition has been in operation since last winter, developing a variety of strategies and programs that encourage residents to adopt healthier lifestyles.
Along with Sebaly, other members of the coalition’s leadership include Mayor Kyle Stack, Parks and Recreation Director Joann Gonyea and Betty Priskorn of Oakwood Healthcare.
Oakwood’s health community initiatives are the outgrowth of a 2013 area needs assessment that was done to determine what the key health needs are in the communities surrounding Oakwood facilities. The main areas of concern set to be tackled by the Trenton group include access to health care, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
For more information on the coalition’s activities, like “Healthy Trenton” on Facebook.