Work related stress combined with long hours spent sitting in an air-conditioned office regularly contribute to the poor overall health of a typical office worker. As the working population ages chronic illness is becoming a major factor affecting not only the employees, but also the overall health of organisations.

The science shows that limited physical activity increases the risk of developing over 35 different chronic diseases.(1) Certain cancers, musculoskeletal injuries and metabolic syndromes such as type II diabetes increase as lives become sedentary.

Sedentary individuals are also 45% more likely to have depressive symptoms compared to those who participate in frequent physical activity. And after adjusting for the risk factors, being physically inactive for four years raises the risk of depression by 22%.(1)

Poor health of an employee affects the company’s bottom line

Unhealthy lifestyle and obesity’s effect on the company are the same as they are on the economy as a whole. When zoomed in on the company level, an unmanaged chronic stress, sedentary lifestyle and poor diet habits negatively affect the effectiveness of an employee.

In best cases an unhealthy employee shows up to work and functions at suboptimal capacity. In worst, and unfortunately common cases, unhealthy lifestyle can lead to missed days from work due to chronic illness, struggles with mental wellbeing, unhappiness with the work environment, and even musculoskeletal overuse injuries.

Unhealthy companies waste money

As an example, A Comcare review reported that the healthiest employees work roughly 143 effective hours per month. In comparison, the least healthy employees number of effective hours in the same time period is 49.(2)

That’s close to a 100 hours of difference in the effectiveness between two employees, in a one single calendar month.

Perhaps both of those employees earn similar salary, costing the company equal amount of money. But the healthy employee is three times as productive as the unhealthy. The difference to the company’s bottom line becomes staggering when multiplied over a year.

Unhealthy companies struggle with retention and are not as attractive for high quality candidates

As a personal trainer I see a trend of people becoming increasingly aware of their work’s negative effects on their health.

As health programs are introduced within the company the staff will feel positive about the workplace culture. They can become assured that their employer values the wellbeing of its employees.

Instead of being another corporation that only drives for profit, regardless of the downsides, this can lead to the organization being seen as more caring towards their employees. Organizations that value and respect their employees are often highly regarded and can have a higher staff retention rate.

Consequently a healthy organization with positive image can be seen as a great employment option. When compared to their competition, employers valuing health and wellbeing can become more effective on attracting high quality candidates.

Unhealthy companies are not as innovative

Research has found that the level of creativity and innovation improve in workplace after the employees health and wellness is managed better.(2)

This hardly comes as a surprise. Science has established the positive effects a frequent physical activity has on mental alertness and brain function(3) and the same can be said about a healthy, nutritious diet and its effects on brain function.(4)

Do corporate health and wellness programs actually work?

The aforementioned Comcare review found compelling evidence of health-related benefits for employees from health and wellbeing programs. By implementing evidence-based diet, physical activity and mental-wellbeing education a company can greatly impact the performance of its employees. As a result the performance of a company goes up too.

The negative impact an unhealthy or an injured employee has to the employer could be related to the impact an injured athlete has on his or her team’s performance in sports. In sports, being healthy to play at a high level is a no-brainer. But unfortunately it is at times overlooked in the corporate environment.

When the importance of a healthy lifestyle is emphasised within the company it is more likely to be on top of employees minds.

(2) Comcare Review – The Evidence for investing in worker health and wellbeing