By Ted Kyle
Two new insights are converging to create an opportunity for employers to gain competitive advantage. First, the results from wellness-or-else programs are proving that the promises of some wellness vendors were inflated. Bribing and threatening employees to be healthier doesn’t really pay off. Equally important is the insight that comes from medical research about obesity. While it’s clear that obesity is costly for health and productivity, it’s also clear that simplistic weight loss schemes are utterly ineffective for dealing with obesity.
Because obesity is a complex, chronic disease with a big impact on competitiveness and productivity, employers need smart strategies for dealing with it. Innovative employers are finding such strategies by integrating health benefits with a strategy for the well-being of their workforce. The result can be a competitive advantage.
Obesity, Wellness, and Well-Being
Obesity has more than a single cause and the most important factors can vary from one person to the next. Some people have been living with obesity that goes back through many generations. For others, it may be the response to traumatic stress. Work stress and unhealthy sleep patterns can contribute. Because the list is nearly endless, a cookie cutter wellness program will do little to provide lasting well-being to most people with obesity.
The most effective strategy grows from a corporate culture that prizes the well-being of its workforce. That means considering the whole employee and offering more than lip service about wellness. Does the culture tolerate destructive conflict and stress? Or is there a genuine commitment to managing workplace stress?
Some jobs put a worker at a higher risk of obesity. A smart employer knows which of its jobs add to the risks and finds ways to mitigate them. Does the work environment promote healthy nutrition and physical activity?
Integrating Well-Being with Health Benefits
No amount of well-being talk will help an employee overcome obesity unless the corporate health plan gives them access to an effective standard of care for obesity. That means access to care providers – such as board-certified obesity medicine physicians – who are skilled in providing effective obesity care. It means access to modern anti-obesity medications and bariatric surgery when necessary. But most of all, it means systems that don’t falsely imply that an employee must first prove that they are worthy of receiving a decent standard of care before they can get it.
After a lifetime of blame and shame for a body size they did not choose, many people with obesity will internalize the stigma they feel. It hurts their health and productivity. Worse, it leads them to avoid healthcare that might help them overcome obesity. Make sure your health plan isn’t adding to that problem.
Research tells us that employers who focus on the well-being of their workforce can expect a workforce that is healthier and more productive. In turn, a healthy, productive workforce can be an important source of competitive advantage.
At Work, photograph © UCONN Rudd Center Image Gallery
Ted Kyle is a pharmacist and healthcare innovation professional who serves on the Board of Directors for the Obesity Action Coalition and advises The Obesity Society on advocacy. His widely-read daily commentary, published at conscienhealth.org/news, reaches an audience of more than 15,000 thought leaders in health and obesity.
The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints express by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of Pittsburgh Business Group on Health, its board or its employees.