John Dineen makes a case for a healthy work environment

As countries around the world strive to create sustainable health systems, conversations are shifting to a place many people spend sizeable amounts of time: work. The integration of wellness and health in the workplace is proving to be a powerful influencer in helping employees lead healthier lives and improving long-term economic impact on healthcare costs.

Employers have a unique vantage point: there is strong evidence that a healthy workforce is vital to a company’s and a country’s competitiveness, productivity and well-being. Over the past three years, the World Economic Forum has explored this premise through its Workplace Wellness Alliance initiative, which shared findings from its latest report, “Making the Right Investment: Employee Health and the Power of Metrics,” at this week’s Annual Meeting in Davos.

With findings from the Alliance’s 2012 data collection, covering almost two million employees from 25 companies and 125 locations worldwide, this report also puts forward nine corporate case studies on the types of return observed from specific workplace health and well-being programs. The companies include: Discovery Health, General Electric, Humana, Johnson & Johnson, Jubilant, Novartis, Saudi Aramco, Unilever and US Preventive Medicine (USPM).

Among the Alliance report themes is ‘return on investment (ROI) for workplace wellness,’ which is applicable around the world, regardless of how developed wellness efforts are. Through metrics, both qualitative and quantitative, employers are realizing the value of engaging employees in their health and the likely long-term impact on healthcare costs for companies and employees.

This isn’t theoretical.  Companies can – and should – lead by example. As governments around the world look to improve the health of their people, local employers can significantly contribute with accessible and sustainable workplace wellness programs. Not only is it good for their employees’ health; it makes good business.

The Workplace Wellness Alliance has begun its transition from the World Economic Forum to a new home – the Institute of Health and Productivity Management (link to http://www.ihpm.org), which will continue to advance metrics for workplace wellness. What strikes me is the number and diversity of companies, organizations, and individuals participating in the conversation. The consensus is that workplace wellness will no longer be an exceptional offering by employers, but the norm. In today’s economic environment, facilitating the development of effective employer health strategies is a smart investment.

Author: John Dineen is President and Chief Executive Officer of GE Healthcare

Image: A man yawns during working hours in Tokyo REUTERS/Issei Kato