Businesses have a major issue to combat in the workplace as chronic diseases are on the rise. With so many days lost each year due to absenteeism, businesses want to ensure they have a happy and healthy workforce.

131 million days were lost due to sickness absences in the UK in 2013, down from 178 million days in 1993, according to an ONS report. That meant, on average 4.4 days were lost per average for each worker.

So why do employees have so many days off? The answer is quite simply wellness. We are living through a major crisis of physical inactivity and growing obesity. Employers need to do so much more to combat this problem.

The World Health Organisation predicts deaths from Non Communicable Diseases (NCD) will rise by 15% between 2010 and 2020. By 2025, the world population of diabetics alone is expected to increase by 75%. The global economic impact of the five leading NCDs—cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, cancer, diabetes and mental ill health—could total US$47 trillion by 2030. By 2030, global death from chronic disease is projected to rise to 52 million people.

Unless the rising tide of chronic disease is reversed, such costs could have a severe impact on the productivity of national economies and the future growth of global business.

What we really need is effective Health and Wellness Programmes.

At the MAXIS GBN Global Health Conference in Paris in November, Professor Frédéric Saldmann, cardiologist and nutritionist spoke about how simple interventions can be highly effective in preventing NCDs. For example, just 30 minutes of continuous moderate physical activity per day decreases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer’s and cancer by 40%, while walking to work decreases the risk of coronary heart disease by 13%.  What’s more, employer-sponsored programmes are extremely effective compared to public prevention programmes generating 15-35% more participation and very high levels of satisfaction from participants.

Health and wellness is also a key strategic component for employers not only to contain healthcare costs but to retain and engage their employees. Tailoring programmes to meet local needs is key to engaging employees and achieving results. Health and wellness programmes take different forms across the world – in the US and Europe, gym memberships might be offered at a discounted rate, while in developing countries, employer-sponsored meals at work provide access to adequate nutrition.    

For example, AXA Health Gateway is an online platform which provides a personalised plan for healthy, diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, and many other issues to reduce risk factors for developing chronic diseases. It has helped approximately 2500 people and removed over 5000 health risks from the UK last year. Removing one health risk from one employee saves employers approximately £600 per year.

From a corporate social responsibility perspective, the need for employer sponsored programmes is clear but is there a business case for Health and Wellness?

Creating an atmosphere conducive to healthy living at the workplace both reduces costs and boosts business outcomes.  For every pound invested in prevention programmes, employers save £4 in medical costs, absenteeism, loss of productivity, and other indirect costs related to poor health.  Significantly, companies with a strong corporate health culture are shown to outperform the S&P 500 stock index by 3-5%.  Corporate Health and Wellness programmes are a win-win for employers and employees. The business case for Health and Wellness programmes is as undeniable as the challenges posed by increasing rates of chronic disease.

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