Wellness Matters: More than 130 Million American Adults Suffer Chronic Health Conditions

A new frontier of employee health and safety awareness is rising. It’s the idea of wellness and a practice that’s good for people, plus there’s clear business value in the efforts made by workers to maintain and improve their good health and in the support employers provide to employees in helping them achieve that end.

An unhealthy workforce is one that’s less productive than it could be. This may be most obvious during times when there’s something “going around,” and many employees are out sick during the flu season. Productivity suffers. Workers who are sick either don’t come to work (absenteeism), or they come to work (presenteeism), but don’t get much done. Absenteeism and presenteeism are well-recognized drains on productivity, not just for individual employees but for an entire organization. A single absent employee can affect the productivity of an entire unit.

More than 130 million American adults suffer from chronic health conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fully half of all American adults – 117 million people – suffer from two or more. The CDC estimates these workers miss 450 million more work days each year than healthy workers, and their lost productivity due to absenteeism alone amounts to $225 billion each year – that’s $1,683 per employee.

The cost of presenteeism is harder to quantify, but is probably greater than absenteeism. Here are some examples of costly poor health conditions:

  • The top five. In 2016, researchers reported that absenteeism resulting from five conditions – smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes and high blood pressure – each cost employers $2 billion apiece, annually.
  • Working while sick. Rheumatoid arthritis, back pain, and insomnia were the chronic health conditions most commonly associated with presenteeism.
  • Overweight and inactive. American workers may be obese or sedentary, putting them at increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and chronic pain.
  • Smokers are at increased risk of cancer, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and heart disease.
  • Sleep-deprived. Workers who have difficulty getting enough sleep, are less productive and more accident-prone, and increase their risk of obesity and heart disease.
  • Stressed out. Stress is a more serious problem than you might think. The CDC has found workplace stress is the most common workplace health condition in the United States. It ranks above both smoking and obesity in terms of occupational health risk.

These chronic health conditions amount to hundreds of billions of dollars each year in direct medical costs, and in lost productivity due to both presenteeism and absenteeism.

The good news is that each of these conditions is manageable, with appropriate care. Better management of chronic conditions has a positive impact on productivity. The trick is in engaging workers who either don’t feel sick enough to go to the doctor, or who feel they cannot afford to invest the necessary time and energy to improve their health.

Learn more about these issues and what your organization can do to support and promote the good health of employees. Download the report: Supporting Your Workplace Wellness: Driving Worker Productivity and Business Value.

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