August 20, 2003
Expert: Working out at work healthy for employees, companies
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. A Purdue University professor says if America wants to shape up, then the nation's employers need to step up.
"As a start, we need to see small businesses approach on-site wellness with a can-do attitude, and larger corporations need to reduce their skepticism and resistance," says Roger Seehafer, a health and kinesiology professor who works with companies to implement programs such as exercise and fitness, nutrition, weight management, smoking cessation and stress management.
Numerous studies show that promoting wellness and disease prevention in work settings is effective in many ways, including increasing employee wellness and providing companies a return on their investment. Seehafer, a member of the Purdue Gerontology Program and the Living Well After 50 Coalition, says companies can average a $3 return for every dollar spent on wellness programs.
"That sounds really good, but here is the problem," Seehafer says. "The results from these studies are out of the realm of believability for some business leaders. If we said we're providing a 10 percent return on their investment it would be more believable, but we're trying to tell them it's a 300 percent return. Many think it's too good to be true."
Seehafer says companies also are hesitant because the savings for investing in on-site wellness programs aren't guaranteed, especially if programs are poorly designed, staff are unqualified and initial funding is limited.
"But I can guarantee that health care costs are going to increase 12 to 14 percent next year," Seehafer says. "And the increase will do more harm to smaller companies. If there is a major medical problem with one employee it has a greater fiscal impact on smaller companies."
Why focus on smaller worksites? About 80 percent of the American work force is employed at a company with 500 or fewer employees, Seehafer says. And about 55 percent of that population works for a company with fewer than 100 people. Many smaller companies may see their size as an obstacle to implementing the three keys to creating a successful work site wellness program. To see a return on investment, the program must be well designed, staffed by knowledgeable and qualified personnel, and financially supported, Seehafer says.
"Often in smaller companies, the profit margins are slim and there is less of a chance for on-site wellness personnel," he says. "And most small companies lack the space for facilities. Where do you expect someone at a fast-food restaurant or convenience store to exercise?"
Seehafer says smaller companies need to identify pre-existing community and national resources, such as group membership deals at local health clubs. Non-profit organizations, such as the American Heart Association and American Lung Association, are often untapped resources that have materials for low-cost wellness programs, such as nutrition or smoking cessation programs.
Small companies also can join together to fund special programs or hire knowledgeable personnel.
"The most important reason why wellness and prevention programs can be successful in small companies is because co-workers are more likely to see each other's successes," Seehafer says. "If a co-worker sees a colleague lose weight or quit smoking, they may say, 'I can do that.'"
Seehafer says work site health settings are appealing and necessary because they are convenient.
"Most Americans spend a third of their waking hours at their 40-hour per week job," he says. "Some of those people spend 60 hours a week on the job, and that is even more reason to have something at the work site.
"Large or small, more companies should be thinking about their aging population, especially with the baby boomers expecting to work longer than their parents. Because people are living and working longer, it will be more costly for companies to care for older employees who will deal with more chronic disease and disability."
Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Roger Seehafer, (765) 494-3159, email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; firstname.lastname@example.org
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