Holistic Health Goes Beyond Physical Well-Being

By John Scorza Jun 29, 2016
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When it comes to employee health, it’s time for HR to help companies shift their focus from just physical health to a holistic view of well-being, said Dr. Bruce Sherman, medical director of population health management for Buck Consultants at Xerox in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

It’s not only the right thing to do for workers, he noted. There’s a business case for it, too.

“It’s not just about physical health,” Sherman said June 22 during a concurrent session titled “Connecting the Dots: Examining the Link Between Workforce Health and Business Performance” at the Society for Human Resource Management 2016 Annual Conference & Exposition in Washington, D.C.

Sherman said the World Health Organization got it right when it defined health as “the state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

There’s little doubt that those attributes—physical, mental and social well-being—are significantly impacted by conditions and relationships at work. “People can have their well-being improved or worsened by what’s going on in the workplace,” he remarked.

Organizations that understand that concept—and help employees achieve overall good health—realize some pretty significant returns, Sherman said.

  • Individual employees with high well-being scores perform at a higher level in the workplace.
  • Similarly, business units whose members have high well-being scores perform better.
  • Workers at companies that emphasize well-being are more likely to stay with their employers, thereby contributing to lower turnover rates.
  • For each $1,000 reduction in health care costs, per-employee output rises by $2,000 (based on an analysis of a group of Goodyear workers).

Socioeconomic Factors

To ensure that an organization’s employee benefits and educational programs are effective, HR needs to know the organization’s workers and their needs. “This is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” Sherman said.

For many workers, unhealthy habits—like smoking and alcohol abuse—and financial stress are the biggest threats to well-being. “Behavioral health and financial health are the two sources of stress that are bubbling up right now,” he said.

Financial stress may be particularly acute today. More than half of adult workers in the U.S. earn less than $30,000 a year, Sherman said. That’s something HR needs to keep in mind. “A lot of us, unfortunately, aren’t thinking about their needs. We need to put ourselves in their shoes.”

That means knowing that people who don’t make much money tend to avoid health care services. “Health is not that important to them because they have other priorities” and expenses, Sherman said. And they’re the same people who are most likely to have chronic conditions and catastrophic claims a few years down the line because their health problems have gone undiagnosed.

By helping low-wage workers alleviate some of their financial stress, HR can encourage better health outcomes and lower health care costs in the long-run. And HR can change the perception that employee health and well-being are more than a just near-term business expense. It’s an investment in the workforce.

John Scorza is associate editor of HR Magazine.

Related SHRM Article:

Wellness Programs Expand Beyond Physical Health, SHRM Online Benefitss, December 2015

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