Why Does My Company Care About My Health?

April, 2015

I am the person most responsible for my health. No question about that. But should my company also take an interest in my health?
In crass financial terms, the answer is yes. One reason is obvious: health insurance premiums. At my age, if I mistreat my body, I’ll be visiting doctors and hospitals more often. If there are enough people like that at my company, our health insurance premiums will rise.

On top of that, an unhealthy person is more likely to call in sick – that’s not good for the bottom line. And if I drop dead tomorrow, there will be some costs in finding and training my replacement. So keeping me in good health is in my company’s best financial interest, but – let’s stick simply to crass financial terms for the moment – only if keeping me healthy doesn’t cost too much money.

So why are wellness programs spreading through corporate America and Hawaii businesses like the flu? The programs have obvious costs and they have not been proven to enhance the bottom line, so why should the C-Suite care?

Contributing writer Ilima Loomis tackles that issue in her article about wellness programs in Hawaii that starts on page 56. The health insurance provider UHA has a wellness program for its own employees and is helping other companies (both clients and nonclients) start their own wellness programs; Kaiser is doing the same thing and many companies have launched internal programs.

UHA CEO Howard Lee is very clear: Don’t consider wellness programs a money saver. However, he says, consider them a sensible part of the benefits that you provide to attract and retain good employees. Many of the companies that have good wellness programs are among the Best Places to Work in Hawaii, and we know those companies are effective at attracting good candidates for jobs and reducing turnover among their staff. That makes good business sense.

Eating well and staying fit are important to me. If you have great genes, you can smoke, drink and watch TV all your life and still live to 90. But my family got a short straw when it comes to healthy genes, so I figure I have to eat much better and exercise twice as hard as the next guy just to stay even. That’s why I’m delighted that the parent company of Hawaii Business magazine, the aio group, is launching a wellness program. I’ve volunteered for the organizing committee and I plan to stay involved.

The program may help make for more motivated employees and reduce turnover. But, without getting misty eyed on you, I think the main reason my company is starting a wellness program is that decent people run this place and, morally, it’s the right thing to do. I don’t think the company would survive if it had to hire three extra staff for the program, plus provide unlimited fruit salads to everyone and shave two hours off the workday for Zumba, weights and yoga, but a few small steps in those directions might help people take further steps on their own. A lot of other companies are feeling the same way.

Is all this benevolence leading us toward a nanny state? I like to think of it this way: Good neighbors help each other, partly because they hope for kindness in return and partly because it’s the right thing to do. If you belong to a church, paddling team or book club, you watch out for one another, partly because you hope for kindness in return and partly because it’s the right thing to do. So there’s nothing  wrong for the leaders of a company to care about the health of their employees, both because they hope that will help the company and partly because it’s the right thing to do.

Do I expect all companies to act this way? No, but I expect the best ones will. And I like to think that it’s more likely to happen in Hawaii than elsewhere.

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Steve Petranik