How Far Can Employers Go In Pushing Workers Toward Better Health?

By Mary K. Caffrey
A century ago, employee health and well-being was of such little concern to most US employers that it took the passage of workers’ compensation laws for most to care, because suddenly it affected the bottom line.Today, the concept of workplace health has gone well beyond accident prevention, as the employer is seen as the one force in an individual’s life who can compel change in eating or exercise habits. How much employers can or should do, however, has varied, with larger employers typically willing to invest more than smaller operations.Is it time for employers to be judged by the health of their workers? Derek Yach thinks so. Writing this week for The Washington Post, the executive director of the Vitality Institute, which promotes the prevention of chronic disease, outlined a concept in which employers could anonymously record health statistics of their workers and report them, along with financial data and projections for orders for the next quarter. Information on workforce health, Yach suggests, would be valuable to investors, giving them one more piece of data by which to gauge the worthiness of a company.

Far-fetched? Maybe not. Workforce health information certainly could have a relationship with healthcare spending, employee productivity, turnover or accidents. Yach is just one of many voices suggesting that the time has come for employers to use their untapped power to improve the nation’s health, for the mutual benefit of their workers, their investors, and themselves.

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