Have you hugged your employees lately? It might save you some money.
That question comes to mind because of recent coverage of wellness programs and workplace health.
In this magazine, we have published two of three installments on efforts to keep employees and their companies financial condition healthy. Reporter Rebecca Vesely examined wellness program expectations in Part 1 (Oct. 27, p. 26), and in Part 2 (Nov. 17, p. 34) she looked at how health plans are ramping up an array of new wellness programs. In Part 3, to be published Dec. 15, Vesely will focus on the new demands on employees for better health.
We also published our first Healthcare Purchasing Power Survey, reporting the mammoth expenditures of the nations largest employers on medical care (Nov. 10, p. 24). In addition, we discussed the annual conference of the National Business Coalition on Health on this page (Nov. 17, p. 16) and we published the Best Places to Work in Healthcare supplement on Oct. 27.
The wellness and prevention efforts are certainly commendable. Having employees monitor their vital signs, exercise, follow better diets and reject bad habits such as smoking can only help them and possibly reduce some costs.
But some researchers say there may be otherand possibly more importantfactors affecting the health of the workforce. One of the big ones is how employees are treated in their organizations.
One of the most prominent proponents of this theory is Michael Marmot, a public health expert who has analyzed the landmark Whitehall studies of British civil servants. His conclusion is that health is linked to your place on the socio-economic ladder. People at the top get sick less often than those at the bottom. At first, that doesnt seem startling. But the studies also found that health declines at each rung down the ladder.
The normal temptation is to say that the lower classes have poorer health habits, and thats often the case. But Marmot and colleagues found that this accounted for no more than a third of illness. Moreover, in Britain a lack of access to care cant be the cause; everyone can get coverage via the national health plan. The upshot? Marmot thinks that psycho-social conditions are behind the phenomenon. The stress of having little control over your life, a lack of access to a community and a general lack of respect generate stress that wears on the body.