Employee wellness programs could help cut costs boost productivity

Investing in an employee wellness program could help cut costs and improve productivity in the manufacturing business, according to researchers from Iowa State University.

“All our evidence says there will be a net positive financial return for the companies,” Mike O’Donnell, program director for the Center for Industrial Research and Service at Iowa State, stated. “While we’re relatively sure helping employees become healthier will improve absenteeism rates, the real question is will it impact health care premiums?”

To assess physical, financial and emotional health, researchers recruited 60 employees from three manufacturing companies and randomly assigned them to a control group, which completed only the health risk assessment, or an intervention group, which completed a 6-month program on nutrition, exercise, stress and finances.

Overall, the researchers found that as many as 85% of employees had poor or low flexibility in their left arm, which can have significant consequences.

“When you’re in a manufacturing environment, regardless of the task, dexterity and flexibility are always going to be important. You need to assemble things, you need to weld them, and some people need to lift things,” O’Donnell said. “If you’re not flexible, you’re at risk for higher injury rates, at risk for not being able to do your job well enough.”

Study results also showed that more than 80% of employees were obese or overweight and that nearly 45% of employees were at high to very high risk for chronic disease, such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

When looking at finances, researchers found that there was a strong association between physical health and financial health. Nearly 60% of employees had average levels of financial stress. To address these issues, short courses were developed to help employees understand their credit score and learn how to set financial goals, plan for retirement and eliminate debt.

“Americans spend a lot of time at work. If we can make it convenient for the employees to take a healthy lunch and learn how to improve their well-being or go for a walk during lunch, it’s a great opportunity for the employee as well as the employer,” Kayli Julander, a graduate research assistant, said.

For more information:

Improving overall employee wellness could yield multiple benefits. Available at: www.news.iastate.edu/news/2013/06/17/worksitewellness. Accessed on June 19, 2013.

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