By Emma Hall
Two years of collaboration between the Oregon Health Authority and business leaders has resulted in a new initiative called Wellness@Work. The initiative's website launched this week with tools for companies to check their current wellness level and simple ideas on how to improve the health of employees.
Workplace wellness is important for workers to stay healthy, but also helps cut costs for businesses, especially welcome in the current economic climate. Healthy workers means less absenteeism and lower costs for health care, disability and workers' compensation. While Oregon faces high unemployment and a budget shortfall, the state is spending 16% of the general fund budget on health care.
In contrast to previous programs that focused on individual wellness, Wellness@Work targets businesses. “We’re hoping businesses will bring together a committee of employees from all departments to make changes to their workplaces,” says Dawn Robbins, the Work Site Wellness coordinator for the state.
Robbins says that they understand these are tough economic times, so some workplaces may be wary of spending money up front to build a culture of health. However, “lots of research shows that when employees adopt comprehensive wellness, the return on investment is high,” she says.
Currently, health care costs are soaring in Oregon, with smoking alone causing 7,000 deaths and an estimated $2.4 billion in costs and lost productivity each year, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services. Wellness@Work provides resources for businesses to help their employees quit smoking, as well as for creating a tobacco-free work environment. The initiative stems from the idea that Oregonians spend nearly half their waking hours at work, and creating a culture of wellness in the workplace could dramatically improve the state’s health.
Obesity costs the state more than $781 million in medical costs; that grows to more than $1 billion when including lost productivity and related health conditions. Nearly two-thirds of adults in Oregon are overweight or obese. Wellness@Work aims to lower this number by providing tips on how employers can get their workers moving more and eating better at work. One example is that if employees walk for 30 minutes each work day, they will meet the CDC’s physical activity recommendations—which only 57% of Oregonians are currently meeting.
Wellness initiatives are very important in the businesses that rank in Oregon Business magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon each year. Company yoga sessions tipped Ruby Receptionists into the #2 best medium company spot in 2011. Healthier employees are good for them, and good for the bottom line.