World health is critical; so is workplace wellness
The World Economic Forum is constantly working relentlessly to improve our citizenry’s health. It recognizes that a nation’s economic development rests on the healthiness of its people. And it is enhancing wellness through partnership, among other programs.
That partnership focus has spread and applies now to workplace wellness. At this year’s Davos meeting, major corporations championing workplace wellness, including my company Humana, explained why then have formed the World Economic Forum Workplace Wellness Alliance. The alliance seeks to gain more knowledge about the connection between employee wellness and employee engagement and productivity.
You know just how critical a healthy work environment is. It impacts your productivity and bottom line. It defines the level of employee engagement. It permeates your culture. Sadly, one-third of the world’s workforce suffers from preventable chronic diseases in any given year. This triggers lost workdays and lower employee productivity. In the U.S. alone, the cost of this economic loss is estimated at more than $1 trillion annually. It’s double that for the entire world.
But a growing library of research reveals that workplace wellness programs that address lifestyle changes and promote health are clearly beneficial. The research in a joint 2008 report by the WEF and WHO, suggests that these initiatives prevent up to 40 percent of non-communicable diseases. In the U.S., they’ve recorded returns on investment of up to $4 in cost savings for every $1 invested.
But we in the business community must do much more. I know how hard it is, given our tough challenges today, to invest the necessary energy and funds to subdue the risk factors for chronic disease. We still don’t really know, for instance, what approaches to combat chronic disease really make a difference. That’s sad, especially since half of those who die from chronic disease each year are in their productive years.
This is where the Forum’s corporate collaborations can help. They will help enrich the effectiveness of systems against chronic disease. And they make even more progress when they include common targets and metrics to employ against the risk factors for these diseases. Through metrics connection, the Workplace Wellness Alliance can create a business case for companies to champion workplace wellness – in their own organizations and elsewhere. These yardsticks can generate significant progress. Why? Because while extremely complex, chronic disease is really driven historically by a familiar risk factors and behaviors, like smoking, inactivity, poor diet and stress.
Follow the Forum’s Workplace Wellness Alliance. Join it. Urge others to collaborate. We all may be surprised at what progress cooperative endeavors can make in conquering issues like chronic disease that truly obstruct our economic productivity.
Michael B. McCallister is the chairman and CEO of Humana and chairman for the World Economic Forum’s Workplace Wellness Alliance.
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