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Employee Health and Wellness

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Employee Health and Wellness

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Having a Health and Wellness program in the workplace that includes both the employer and the employees working together to provide a healthier and happier work environment benefits both the employer and the employees. According to William Atikson from the Miller Freeman Inc, stated in his findings, "with these programs, apparel and sewn products firms can reap significant benefits in terms of improved on-the-job safety (and thus reduced workers' compensation costs), improved employee health (and thus reduced health care costs and absenteeism) and improved morale and productivity (and thus improved cost and competitive performance)."(Atkinson, 2000, p. 1). "Employee health and wellness can have a significant impact on a business' bottom line," says Small Business Wellness Initiative (SBWI) project director Kelly Heath. "Workplace wellness is an avenue that any size business cannot afford to ignore." (Martinez, 2004, para. 3).

What exactly is a Health and Wellness program for companies and their employees? A Health and Wellness program can consist of many different things, which can include one or all of the following listed: health screenings, health and wellness education programs and fitness programs. All depends on the size of the company and how much the company is willing to invest into the programs. Instead of jumping right into offering exercise programs, launching nutrition or stress courses or breaking ground for a new fitness facility, the company should first collect data and do some research on what the needs are for the employees.

Starting with health screening is a first step in the collecting of data. "We conduct a health fair once a year for our employees," reports Bud Gates, vice president of human resources for Tanner Companies limited Partnership, a women's wear firm based in Rutherfordton, NC. "At our most recent health fair, the local hospital offered eight different health screenings. All of them were free except for the blood work, which we paid for" (Atkinson, 2000, p.1).

According to Dr. David Hunnicutt, president of the Wellness Councils of America (WELCOA), companies should ask two questions: What does the business need to get out of its health promotion efforts, and what do the employees want? (Martinez, 1999, p.1).

"If you ignore the first question, sooner or later your health-promotion efforts will get downsized of our existence," Hunnicutt says, "You have to provide a business benefit to justify your existence." If you don't address the second question, "You will set up your program without knowing what the employees are interested in. You need to know what's going to attract participation and enthusiasm from the onset." (Martinez, 1999, p.2).

When Joe Leutzinger, director of health promotion at Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha, NEB., focused on strengthening the company's wellness efforts, he discovered that 29 percent of the costs of medical care could be attributed to lifestyle choices, such as diet, exercise, smoking and stress. Medical claims costs per Union Pacific employee, at the time, averaged $6,000 a year. (Martinez, 1999, p.4).

From collecting data from employee surveys and doing a health screen, the company has a better idea of what kind of health and wellness programs and courses to offer the employees. Another benefit from conducting a health screen is to provide the proper resources for the employees. With offering the right literature and/or courses for the employees to utilize is another way to implement the health and wellness program and for the companies to see results in the program.

A wellness program that involves fitness activities and opportunities can vary from company to company. Some companies will build or remodel their facility and provide exercise equipment for an onsite fitness center. Other companies have opted to pay the membership fees to local athletic clubs for employees who wish to participate in the physical fitness program.

Wellness programs have been known to decrease absenteeism, reduce medical claims costs, improve employee productivity, and enhance employee recruitment, and retention.

While studies at Dupont and General Mills found 14-19% reductions, General Electric

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