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In a previous post we have seen the success of the Live Well Work Well Dartmouth-Hitchcock program. On this occasion we would like to discuss how leadership in companies leads to changes in health and wellness. Changes that can become global trends. Changes that transform the world.

Let’s start from the beginning. Let’s consider a well known example.

The Johnson & Johnson code of business conduct

Robert Wood Johnson wrote the following code of business conduct for Johnson & Johnson in 1943 over 70 years ago. It is known as “Our Credo” within the company:

“[…] Everyone must be considered as an individual.

We must respect their dignity and recognize their merit.

They must have a sense of security in their jobs.

Compensation must be fair and adequate,

and working conditions clean, orderly and safe.

We must be mindful of ways to help our employees

fulfill their family obligations.

Employees must feel free to make suggestions and complaints.

While it is true that it impressed me the first time I read it, once again I ask myself if it is another one of those rhetorical statements that abound in companies. Well, there is some evidence to prove that it is not just rhetoric that it is fairly present in people working at Johnson & Johnson and the decisions they make. It is amazing that this display of leadership left its mark, with a major transformative effect.

It turns out that, for decades, Johnson & Johnson, like other companies (such as DuPont, The Dow Chemical, etc) offer their employees programs promoting health. In such a way that the company promotes a shift to a healthy lifestyle, and if the employee wants to participate in this change, the company will support them in different ways so it can be achieved. Since its introduction in 1979 until today there have been many studies on the effectiveness of this measure.

What is achieved by promoting health among workers?

In 1986 a study analysed the relationship between a program of comprehensive health promotion (Live for Life) in the workplace and health care costs. Data from Johnson & Johnson employees who had joined this program was compared with a group of control employees for 5 years. Well, the result is that there were very significant cost differences in health between the two groups ($ 42 in a case compared to $ 76in another). What led to lower costs? Indeed, those who participated in the health promotion program (Live for Life).

But let’s see how the program and employees have evolved. Another study from 2011 evaluated the effects of programs for health promotion on the risk factors for the health of workers, comparing them with health spending and having in mind other companies of a similar size. The data showed that the average annual health expenditure of Johnson & Johnson was 3.7% lower than in other companies. In addition, their employees significantly reduced their rate of obesity, hypertension, smoking, sedentary lifestyle and poor diet. If we talk about the famous ROI (Return on Investment), for every dollar invested they recovered between $ 1.88 and 3.92.

Obviously, this and other studies pointed out the way to follow, not only to other companies, but even politicians. Not for nothing we have to consider one fact: the population is ageing in developed countries, and growing old without health has high economic and social costs. Especially when what we talk about is health problems that could be prevented by adopting changes in our lifestyle.

Is health promotion is everything?

All of this needs to be taken in its proper context. Imagine that we want to promote health among a group of workers. For example, by means of actions to stop smoking. There is much evidence on its negative effect on health. We design actions carefully and we implement them. We talk with employees, we communicate our pro-health messages to them, and when it is time to implement them, we blush when they tell us that if we care so much about health, rather than help them kick the habit of smoking, we can reduce the toxic fumes they breathe in their workplace. And they are absolutely right. It is good to promote healthy lifestyles, but it cannot be detached from the workplace, the family environment, and the social context. Let’s be serious: health is an integral element that affects all dimensions of human beings. So dealing with it partially is not credible or effective.

Thus, there is the need to work for welfare and health 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Sometimes health damage comes from the workplace (via free to act) and sometimes the personal environment (via free to promote, support and provide resources). Nor do we forget the climate environment. Keep in mind the effects that air pollution produces in people (asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases) in both the short and medium term. Additionally, consider the hours we spend every day to travel to our work, the risk to which we expose ourselves driving, how traffic jams affect our rest time, pollution, stress level, when we haven’t even arrived at work yet. All this affects our health. Yes, it is complex: there is not a technical standard or a guide that offers us a magical solution. It’s complicated, it’s a challenge, but our lives are involved.

The solution is integration

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So there is evidence on the importance of caring for our health, responsibility with ourselves and with others. It is also clear the importance that companies have to support this change, both in the workplace and outside the workplace. Let us see what is the smartest way to address health programs in companies. The integration of processes enables:

  • Achieving a major change in the behaviour of workers towards healthy proposals.
  • Increasing the rate of employee participation in health programs
  • Reducing accident rates
  • Strengthening health and safety programs
  • Reducing costs and optimizing resource usage.
  • Improving the productivity and resilience of workers.
  • Improving the working environment and processes through the necessary collaboration between departments.

What are the new challenges in health and wellness in businesses?

The first is to find the most effective means to achieve that goal. There are many tools. But not many validated. Because in the end not all solutions are used in all contexts. We must make an effort to study, design, implement, measure, evaluate, correct, etc. There are no shortcuts. Collaboration between companies and between researchers and companies is paramount.

The second is the relationship between health and productivity. Currently, the costs of illness and absenteeism due to health reasons are not the only things taken into account. Also the effect on the productivity of presenteeism. How certain health conditions diminish our ability  that undermine our effectiveness in the workplace. It has been shown that poor health results in a decrease in productivity.

Let’s review some facts. A 2009 study indicates that for every dollar spent on medical care or medicines, a cost between $ 2 and 4 in productivity (average $ 2.3) is generated. Another  study from 2010 shows that every dollar invested in wellness programs reduces pharmaceutical and healthcare costs by $ 3.27; the cost of absenteeism is reduced by $ 2.73, and regardless of the effect on savings related to presenteeism, we would have already achieved a savings of $ 6 for every dollar invested.

The third challenge has to do with the ageing of the population and its impact on the sustainability of health systems. Undoubtedly healthy ageing is the best gift we can give to ourselves and those who may be our caregivers in the future. It is expected that by 2025 20% of Europeans will be older than 65 years of age. It is already a challenge to live more years, but it is even more of a challenge to live them with health.

The fourth challenge is the relationships that exists between risks that affect health. They may be additive or synergistic. For example, exposure to a substance present in tobacco smoke and in the workplace itself, such as benzene. Or rather back pain linked to a high workload and scarce oversight and even some harassment. Studying the risks alone would leave us much information.

So what do we do now?

I would suggest that everyone think about where they are at and plan where they are going. There is always room for improvement, just look at the leading companies in health.

In America they have given us good advice: spend less time with strategy and more in action. Both are necessary, but in their proportion. And if you need help, we are happy to help you.

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Prevencontrol

PrevenControl es la firma especializada en seguridad y salud laboral que propone soluciones eficaces e innovadoras para la mejora del negocio y la reputación de sus clientes a través de la consultoría, el uso de la tecnología y la formación.
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