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The end of sick days: Why more employers are focusing on healthy days

Aug 19 2016

As workplace wellness programs have caught on, health-minded employers are benefiting from more productive employees with fewer lost workdays. Instead of focusing on sick days, the conversation is turning toward “healthy days.” More employers and health insurance companies are starting to build on basic wellness programs that encourage healthy eating, physical fitness and smoking cessation.

“We have moved beyond equating employee health with sick days,” explains Aetna senior medical director Steven Serra, M.D. “The new conversation is about overall physical and mental health, social well-being and managing chronic conditions. The idea is to help everyone work toward more healthy days, regardless of their starting point.”

The theory, Serra says, is that healthier employees are happier employees. Happier employees bring more value to work.

The alternative can be expensive. For every $1 employers spend on worker medical or pharmacy costs, they absorb at least $2 to $4 of health-related productivity costs in the form of absenteeism and presenteeism associated with chronic conditions, according to a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.  When you add up sick days and the impact of health on job performance and productivity at work, it costs the U.S. economy $227 billion per year

Creating healthy days for greater productivity

According to the Integrated Benefits Institute, employers can save an average of $3 for every $1 they invest in improving their worker’s health. And, Serra said, it doesn’t have to mean disrupting a company’s benefits program.

Robust behavioral health, lifestyle management and well-being programs, along with disease management tools and biometric testing, can provide the information, tools and guidance that individuals often need to take steps to improve their health. In addition to helping employees become more productive, these programs also work to mitigate the future high costs of treating more serious conditions.

Workplace health programs that work

Employers are putting a wide range of programs in place to improve health and productivity:

  • Behavioral health and lifestyle management programs, such as tobacco-free, physical fitness, stress reduction, managing cholesterol, clean eating and weight loss.
  • Disease and illness management, such as those traditionally offered for diabetes, asthma and heart disease
  • Metabolic syndrome testing for risk factors (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels and abdominal fat)
  • Well-being is the newest area of focus for employers, and includes yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and programs to help improve sleep, anxiety and depression



Note:  Aetna is the brand name used for products and services provided by one or more of the Aetna group of subsidiary companies, including Aetna Life Insurance Company and its affiliates (Aetna).