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Fitness and Wellness Programs, Research Paper Example

Pages: 12

Words: 3174

Research Paper

The Impact Fitness and Wellness Programs Have on Employee Absenteeism

We have many companies throughout the United States that are paying more and more for insurance, for liability costs, for the loss of time worked by employees due to sick leave, absenteeism, and overall health. These companies are taking a major productivity cut as more employees are calling out sick and not coming into work. Nowadays, fitness and wellness programs are used in order to combat employee absenteeism. Many businesses now understand that if they provide fitness and wellness programs to their employees, they increase the chances of their employees coming to work. Many of these employees need programs such as these in order to keep themselves healthy, both mentally and physically. However, it is important for companies to also implement these programs in order to help themselves, financially and as a company as a whole. With these programs, companies have the potential to save an enormous amount of money on health care costs, insurance, and employees in general. Programs such as these allow for job satisfaction and show the company that it can have fewer turnovers if the employees are satisfied with their working environment. One of the biggest reasons that companies are beginning to implement these fitness and wellness programs is to reduce employee sick leave absenteeism. It is important to understand how the fitness and wellness programs are being used to combat employee absenteeism, the cost of absenteeism to companies, and the strength and weaknesses of the data that show that the programs are working, but also show just how many feel the data is inconclusive based on sample size and uncontrolled factors.

Fitness and wellness programs have been touted as a way to combat employee absenteeism. Kizzy M. Parks and Lisa A. Steelman (2008) provide information from Aldana, Merrill, Price, Hardy, & Hager (2005) and Bly, Jones, & Richardson (1986) that states:

It has been estimated that 90% of companies provide at least one subset of a wellness program for their employees. A growing number of companies have committed to providing organizational wellness programs to help improve the health of employees, control health care, absence and absenteeism costs, and to provide an additional benefit to employees (58).

According to Kenneth J. Smith, George S. Everly Jr. and G. Timothy Haight (1990), “corporate (or occupational) health promotion programs can refer to any activity or combination of activities sponsored by a company for the purpose of improving the overall physical and/or psychological health of targeted employee groups” (38). These programs can include physical fitness, health education, physical screenings and safety programs as well as programs that are “designed to address key health issues affecting specific employee subpopulations, such as hypertension control, employee assistance, weight loss and nutrition and stress management programs” (Smith et al, 1990, 38). With these programs in place, more employees are able to take advantage of things that many would not be able to without the help of their companies. There are too many Americans that do not have health insurance and cannot afford to be treated for their diseases, viruses, weight loss, psychological complications and stress. According to Deborah L. Gebhardt and Carolyn E. Crump (1990), “the exponential growth of worksite health promotion programs has partially resulted from the belief that an organization should take some responsibility for the welfare of its most valuable resource, the worker” (262). This is very true. If these companies are not encouraging their employees to take better care of themselves and are not helping them do it, then they have no reason to complain about the absenteeism of their workers. Many companies should take more responsibility for their workers as it not only helps others, but also benefits the company financially in the long run.  According to Gebhardt and Crump (1990), “these programs have become an integral part of a corporate strategy for reducing health care costs, improving worker morale, decreasing absenteeism, and improving behaviors that are associated with increased worker productivity” (262). The absenteeism is less which ensures that work productivity is high, the employee turnover rate decreases because more employees like to stay with a company that cares about them, and there is a lot less stress on the company managers in relation to finances and cost in relation to having to train new employees. However, the major reason behind companies implementing these wellness programs is due to improving employee health. By doing this, it lowers illness-related absenteeism rates and this is exactly what these companies are trying to do (Parks & Steelman, 2008, p. 59). Steven Aldana, Ray Merrill, Kristine Price, Aaron Hardy, and Ron Hager (2004) completed a study that indicated that “there are no short-term differences in health care costs between those who participate in voluntary wellness programs and those who do not, but there is a graded and significant difference in absenteeism among those who participate in voluntary wellness programs as opposed to those who do not participate” (135).

The cost of absenteeism can be detrimental to a company. “It has been estimated that absenteeism costs organizations more than 26 million dollars each year and accounts for 10.4 million workdays lost each year” (Parks & Steelman, 2008, p. 59). This is a lot of money and way too many days lost for a company. Therefore, the wellness programs aide these companies in working to keep their costs down in the long run. “According to the American Institute of stress, organizations lose roughly $300 billion dollars a year because of absenteeism, turnover, workplace stress, and health care costs” (Parks & Steelman, 2008, p. 65). These companies are spending too much money on absenteeism when they could be spending the money on programs that could be beneficial to the company financially and to the employees physically and mentally. It is important to keep costs down for any company as this lets them spend money where it is most needed. According to Leonard L. Berry, Ann M. Mirabito, and William B. Baun (2010), “A 2009 study by Dr. Ronald Loeppke and colleagues of absenteeism and presenteeism among 50,000 workers at 10 employers showed that lost productivity costs are 2.3 times higher than medical and pharmacy costs” (p. 112). Aldana et al. (2004) state that their findings “support the theory that improvement of health risks through worksite health promotion program participation may have a limited effect on short-term health care costs, but they may be more financially beneficial with the passage of time as more costly chronic diseases are prevented” (p. 135). The cost of absenteeism has put many companies under and has created more stress than needed. However, Johnson & Johnson is a company that has been smart about implementing wellness programs that have saved them money and frustration. “J&J’s leaders estimate that wellness programs have cumulatively saved the company $250 million on health care costs over the past decade” (Berry et al, 2010, p. 105). Berry et al (2010) also gives us another example of just how much companies are saving by implementing these programs:

In 2001 MD Anderson Cancer Center created a workers’ compensation and injury care unit within its employee health and well-being department, staffed by a physician and a nurse case manager. Within six years, lost work days declined by 80% and modified-duty days by 64%. Cost savings, calculated by multiplying the reduction in lost work days by average pay rates, totaled $1.5 million; workers’ comp insurance premiums declined by 50% (p.106).

After reviewing these costs and the importance that the wellness programs actually play in a company’s finances, it is clear to see just how much of an impact they are making on companies and employees worldwide. The costs of absenteeism are extremely high; this is true. However, as seen through the examples listed above, there are ways in which to combat these high costs. According to Gebhardt and Crump (1990), “cost savings cannot always be identified in terms of a ratio of program cost to health care benefits paid, but they can be derived from the reduction of other costly behaviors such as absenteeism, turnover, and job-related injuries” (p. 266). Wellness programs help save money and keep employees wanting to come to work.

The best thing is that these programs actually do work. “Cox et al. (1981) selected two similar white collar insurance companies and demonstrated a significant reduction in absenteeism (22%) with the institution of a fitness program” (Gebhardt & Crump, 1990, p. 266). It has been understood that absenteeism has been shown to drop anywhere from 20% to 55% for programs that have been implemented from one to five years. “Tenneco compared absenteeism (recorded as sick hours in a year) and exercise activity (number of recorded exercise sessions in the fitness center) for a random sample of exercisers and non-exercisers” (Gebhardt & Crump, 1990, p. 266). Findings include:

The female exercisers had significantly fewer (32%) sick hours than non-exercising females, but the two male groups were not significantly different. The male and female exercisers’ sick hours tended to be inversely related to increase in age, whereas the non-exercisers’ sick hours increased with age (Gebhardt & Crump, 1990, p. 266).

In Bell and Blanke’s 1989 study, “the first objective of the present meta-analysis was to assess whether there were differences in absenteeism for wellness program participants versus nonparticipants the results indicate that participation in an organizational wellness program was associated with lower absenteeism. (Parks & Steelman, 2008, p. 64). As stated by Gebhardt and Crump (1990), “these programs tend to reduce absenteeism, injuries, and health care costs. These benefits have been realized mostly in white collar settings with an average participation rate of only 15% to 30% of eligible employees” (p. 270). Another study also indicates that these wellness programs do work. According to Robert L. Bertera (1990), “in the first year that the program was introduced (1985), the average number of disability days dropped 10.5 percent at program sites while it increased 1.9 percent at non-program sites” (p. 1102). This shows that having the program actually works for individuals who tend to take disability days at work. In addition, “by the end of the second year, disability days dropped 14.0 percent at program sites and 5.8 percent at non-program sites. This represents 0.7 fewer disability days at program sites and 0.3 fewer days at non-program sites” (Bertera, 1990, p. 1103). From this data, it is clear that these programs are helping companies reduce the amount of days that employees are taking for disability. In order for there to be more success with these programs, more companies need to offer them. More companies need to jump on the bandwagon and realize that implementing such programs will reduce their overall costs of absenteeism and injuries on the job. Through the research, it has been seen that these programs work to provide better employees to companies and give employees reasons to want to stay with a company and enjoy their jobs. We also see through the research that the programs do work, that they are beneficial to the health and well-being of the employees, and that they reduce the overall cost of absenteeism for many companies.

Unfortunately, just as everything else, there are weaknesses in the data for these programs. Many of the sources appear to speak to the fact that true measurement of the impact of these programs is not available and that the positive results are biased due to sample size or uncontrolled factors. Parks and Steelman (2008) state:

Although the assumption exists that employees who participate in wellness programs are more physically and psychologically fit and constitute less organizational cost, there appears to be little consistent empirical evidence that demonstrates these relationships. The inconsistencies among the results of the research contribute to the larger controversy as to whether or not wellness programs affect important organizational variables such as absenteeism and job satisfaction (p. 58).

One of the largest problems is that “organizations rarely evaluate the effectiveness of the programs in meeting these goals. This warrants a comprehensive evaluation to determine if the benefits of wellness programs justify the expense of their implementation and maintenance” (Parks & Steelman, 2008, p. 59). It is suggested that employees overall fitness levels are associated with involuntary absenteeism; however, the empirical results are actually mixed. It is important to look at a specific study here in order to identify why certain results are mixed so that one can understand the importance of relevant data and interpretation. A study was conducted by Bell and Blanke (1989) that involved employees for a U.S. transportation company. It investigated the actual relationship between fitness center participants and nonparticipants in relation to absentee rates. “Absenteeism was tabulated from employee records for 16 months, eight months prior to the implementation of the fitness program and eight months following” (Parks & Steelman, 2008, p. 59). Parks and Steelman state:

The results illustrated that female participants had fewer absences than female nonparticipants, but surprisingly the male participants actually had a significantly greater number of absences than the male nonparticipant group (p.59).

Therefore, we can see that the results are not always the way we expect them to be. However, this does not mean that these programs do not work. Another weakness or factor for failure in this process is when the company actually mandates the wellness program to be used. According to Berry et al (2010), “the organizations in our sample favor positive incentives because employees lose trust when they feel they’re being forced to act against their wishes” (p. 108). For example, there are many companies that have mandated smoke-free work sites and if anyone violated the rule, they were at risk of termination. “That just sends the behavior underground instead of providing support in beating an addiction” (Berry et al., 2010, p. 108). Surprisingly, there are much more astonishing reasons in which the data is weak in some cases. One of those reasons is that somebody’s job or reputation is on the line. Roy J. Shephard (1999) states:

Data must be unbiased. However, the program director usually collects figures for participation in work-site wellness programs. His or her job may be on the line if the numbers do not look promising. Thus, there is a temptation to find excuses for neglecting data during periods when attendance is poor or obesity increases (n.p.).

Another weakness in the data is due to experimental design. Statisticians want a true experimental design. In all reality, this implies that workers should be randomly assigned between an experimental and control group. Yet, this is nearly impossible to do in such an industry. If wellness programs are going to be implemented for companies, each employee should have the opportunity to take advantage of that program. According to Shephard, “at best, we may assign one group of employees to a program that we think will be effective, such as regular distance walking, and ask a second group to attend a lower-level program such as a single wellness counseling session, which we think will have only a minor impact on wellness” (n.p.). Therefore, the experimental design can skew the results of the program. Finally, uncontrolled observations may impact the strength of the data that is being discovered. “The great majority of reports on work-site wellness initiatives are based simply on the response to uncontrolled programs” (Shephard, 1999, n.p.). Statisticians do not like this as this does not give a clear picture of the progress being made throughout the experiment, the study, the programs. It only gives information on the subject at hand without any control group. Wellness work-site programs typically only describe the changes seen over the first 3 to 6 months of the program (Shephard, 1999, n.p.). This does not give enough information for individuals to decide whether the program actually works. Finally, the employees can be a weakness to the data as well. Shephard (1999) states:

Enthusiastic participation in work-site wellness programs can yield a variety of health benefits: decreases in body fat, increases in aerobic power, muscle strength, and flexibility; enhanced mood state; and reduced medical insurance claims, with associated decreases in absenteeism and increases in productivity. However, only a minority of employees participate in work-site wellness programs, and even fewer have the enthusiasm needed to realized health benefits.

It is important for employees to jump on the bandwagon if the companies they are working for are willing to give them such a good outlet for stress, anxiety, addiction, and overall health. If these employees do not take advantage of the wellness program, nobody is going to benefit. Unfortunately, this is the case with many companies that have tried to implement such programs for their employees.

In conclusion, despite the negative factors that have been reviewed throughout this paper, it does appear that the evidence does point to positive outcomes on employee absenteeism if there are fitness and wellness programs in place. It is clear that healthier employees equals fewer absences and costs the company less. Despite the sampling issues, it is also clear that less absent employees is typically the outcome of these fitness and wellness programs and that the weaknesses that were discussed throughout the paper may actually be under-counting the net positive impact. Finally, based on the evidence given, employee wellness programs are beneficial to companies that want to combat employee absenteeism. The more companies that have these programs in place, the more each of them is going to succeed. It is important that the employees of the company understand just how beneficial the wellness programs are as well. Too many employees do not take advantage of the implementation of these programs and this does not help them or the company. If companies want to see a change in absenteeism, they must continue to develop these wellness programs and encourage all of their employees to participate. However, they have to understand the difference between encouraging them and making them. As stated earlier, most individuals who are demanded to do something will not do it and will lose respect for the person who is trying to make them do so. This does not help the situation at all and does not provide for a healthy, happy lifestyle or workplace.

References

Aldana, S. G., Merrill, R. M., Price, K., Hardy, A., & Hager, R. (2004). Financial impact of a comprehensive multisite workplace health promotion program. Preventive Medicine, 40, 131-137. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2004.05.008

Berry, L. L., Marabito, A. M., & Baun, W. B. (2010). What’s the hard return on employee wellness programs? Harvard Business Review.

Bertera, R. L. (1990). The effects of workplace health promotion on absenteeism and employment costs in a large industrial population. American Journal of Public Health, 80(9), 1101-1105. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1404872/pdf/amjph00222-0069.pdf

Gebhardt, D. L., & Crump, C. E. (1990). Employee fitness and wellness programs in the workplace. American Psychological Association, 45(2), 262-272.

Parks, K. M., & Steelman, L. A. (2008). Organizational wellness programs: A meta-analysis. American Psychological Association, 13(1), 58-68. doi: 10.1031/1076.8998.13.1.58

Shephard, R. J. (1999, February). Do work-site exercise and health programs work? Retrieved from http://www.timehealthmanagement.com/worksiteexercise.pdf

Smith, K. J., Everly Jr., G. S., & Haight, G. T. (1990). An empirical analysis of the impact of a corporate health promotion intervention on reported sick leave absenteeism. Benefits quarterly, 37-45. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/[email protected]&vid=2&hid=108

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