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Lifestyle » April/May 10

Weight loss in the workplace

A recent study shows a company’s medical and absenteeism costs increase an average of $917 a year for employees who are 30 to 60 pounds overweight compared to their healthy weight counterparts. And that number rises to $2,256 for employees who are 60 to 100 pounds overweight, according to Ceridian LifeWorks, a leading provider of health and productivity solutions for businesses.

The Ceridian study of nearly 100 companies shows a workforce with reduced overall Body Mass Index (BMI) can contribute to increased productivity, as the health of employee populations improve. BMI is a measurement used to calculate a person’s weight to height ratio. A BMI of 25 or greater is considered overweight and 30 or greater is considered obese. Considerable data and research links higher BMI with disease and a greater risk for health conditions, such as diabetes, osteoarthritis and heart disease. But in lowering your BMI, however, the risk of developing these health conditions in the future lowers.
“Weight management is fast becoming a critical issue for employers as they realize the impact it can have on health care costs and productivity,” said Ceridian LifeWorks senior vice president and general manager Zachary Meyer. “Helping address weight issues and getting the most from your employees isn’t as complicated as it seems. There are health management programs that can help employees make everyday behavior changes to help improve their lives and energy—and their productivity at work.”

ROI on weight loss at work

As Harvard Business Review writer Dr. George Blackburn recently pointed out, “If you think this type of plan would be prohibitively expensive to offer, think again.” He reported the ROI on a similar program at the local transportation authority in Austin, Texas, was calculated at nearly $2.50 per dollar spent. A recent article in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease says the plan’s payoff stems from lower health care costs and reduced absenteeism.  In fact, health and wellness programs like this have been sprouting up across the nation lately.

In ABJ’s Nov/Dec 2009 Issue, we covered the newly passed national mental health parity law and showed some star companies and their simply awesome comprehensive wellness and health programs for employees. Given their cost-effectiveness for the employer and demonstration of employee appreciation, it’s a win-win situation.

Ceridian LifeWorks senior vice president and general manager Zachary Meyer offers the following tips to employers that want to help employees reach a healthy BMI and maintain it over time:

- Offer a Health Risk Assessment. Encourage employees to learn where they can make healthy improvements in their everyday lives. Health Risk Assessments (HRAs) provide an opportunity to engage employees with a simple and confidential, yet effective tool to get them started.

- Provide active outreach to employees. The HRA is a great first step, but employers can go one step further by engaging employees who respond to the HRA. Active outreach to the highest risk employees helps eliminate barriers and provides guidance with the often overwhelming “What do I do next?” dilemma.

- Offer healthy food and drink options. Offer healthy, low-fat meals in the cafeteria and in vending machines.

- Form walking and exercise groups. Encourage employees to form and join walking groups with teams and coworkers to keep them motivated. Corporate weight loss strategies are effective ways to get people to team together in their weight loss efforts.

- Offer structured programs for weight loss. Look for a program that has evidence-based methodologies and sustained outcomes. There are many health coaching and weight loss programs available for employers to chose from, but few offer strong mechanisms to drive behavior change and offer long-term return on investment.

- Consider incentive-based programs to motivate reluctant employees. Employees love a challenge and opportunity to see their success rewarded. Offer employees small rewards for reaching weight-loss goals. Employer-sponsored programs often realize double or triple active participation when health coaching is linked to incentives for achievement. Incentives at all stages of the weight loss process are particularly effective in helping people hit their targeted goal.

- Incorporate weight-loss activities into business and team-building events. Encourage employees to bond with a physical activity like an afternoon bowling event or by having a walking meeting.

- Offer yoga or pilates classes during lunch. An in-house fitness class is much easier for employees to attend on a regular basis. It also allows employees to experience an exercise class they might have been reluctant to try on their own.

Resources for managers:

Harvard Business Review:

Ceridian is a business services company that helps its customers maximize the power of their people, lower their costs and focus on what they do best. The company’s suite of innovative managed human resource solutions includes payroll and compensation, employee benefits administration, staffing, compliance, HR administration and employee assistance programs (EAP), work-life and health and productivity solutions.