Fit to practice: The cost of your employees' weight

Fit to practice: The cost of your employees' weight

Overweight employees cost U.S. business billions annually.
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Apr 10, 2012

Being overweight costs a lot of money—as in $153 billion in lost productivity in the United States last year, according to recent research. In this day and age when money’s tight and it’s a struggle to keep businesses afloat, we must do better. That $153 billion sure could save a lot of jobs and help a lot of families. The 2011 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index surveyed 109, 875 full-time employees from Jan. 2 to Oct. 2, 2011 to determine who worked more (or less) and why staff members missed work. The results were not encouraging.

For starters, the survey found that 86 percent of full-time employees were above normal weight with at least one chronic medical problem—that’s a lot of people. Those overweight and ill employees missed an additional 450 million days of work compared to normal weight and healthy staff members. I’m getting a headache just writing this.

Full-time workers who reported no illness and were a normal weight—body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 to 24.9—missed an average of 4 days per year. Not too bad. Overweight or obese workers who reported at least one chronic problem (back, knee or neck pain, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, asthma, and so on) clocked out an average of one day per month, or almost 13 days per year. One day a month? That’s getting a little worrisome. If they were overweight and complained of three or more health issues, they skipped work an average of 3.51 days per month or 42 days each year. Ouch. That really hurts my business.

Before you conclude that this must be a minority of workers, consider this: Overweight or obese workers with one or two chronic problems accounted for 30 percent of those surveyed, while those with three or more issues accounted for 18 percent of the almost 110,000 workers surveyed. Nearly half of all U.S. workers were overweight or obese with at least one reported health issue. In comparison, workers that were normal weight with no medical conditions accounted for a measly 14 percent of all employees in the study.

That $153 billion in lost productivity is about four times that of our neighbors across the pond in the United Kingdom. So what made the difference between Americans and the Brits? Twenty percent of the British full-time workforce was at a normal weight without any medical conditions. That 6 percent margin is huge in terms of workforce productivity.

The good news is that we can improve this situation. It starts with you, the employer or manager. Set a positive example. By living a thriving lifestyle and maintaining a trim weight, you demonstrate each day the importance of optimal health in the workplace. In addition to living the good life, here are some simple steps any practice can take to improving the health and well-being of its staff.

Dump the doughnuts. Next time a sales rep brings in a bucket of baked goods, ask him or her politely to swap it out for a veggie tray next time. Same goes for cookies from clients. Sure, you may get some complaints, but you’ll soon sway your staff by avoiding the sugar crash.

Chug water. Clear the sodas out of your fridge. Install a water purifier and provide BPA-free bottles for your staff to use. Visit my practice any day and you’ll find me “nursing my bottle” as my staff likes to joke.

Provide healthy snacks. Not everyone knows how to eat healthy. If your team lacks the knowledge to nibble nutritious nosh, show them. Fill a bowl with apples and bananas, offer almonds or cashews, bring a tub of almond or cashew butter, and bake zucchini and millet bread. The goal is to teach your staff that healthy eating can be delicious and sustainable.

Hold weekly meetings. As you begin your journey to optimal health, host a weekly staff lunch to share your newfound knowledge. Expand your team’s palate and expose their taste buds to hummus, tabbouleh, nut butters, exotic fruits and veggies, gluten-free breads, herbal teas, and whatever else you’re into. I can’t tell you how many staff (and clients) I’ve converted over the years by simply offering them a taste.

Participate in team events. Set a goal for your team to participate in a charity 5k (and pay for it). Do a ropes course. Do anything that allows you to interact in a healthy manner with your team and break a sweat. Group goals can be powerful motivators. Inspire someone today.

Know that sometimes you walk alone. Sorry to tell you this, but not everyone’s going to be interested in all this healthy stuff. That doesn’t mean you don’t do it. You never know when your actions will influence others. Make sure you’re always setting a good example. I’m a big fan of karma.

An unhealthy staff costs us in more ways than simply dollars. They cost us in quality of care, client service, and workplace morale. I’ve discussed before my belief that “health is not the absence of illness.” Underneath the $153 billion in lost productivity are untold trillions trashed due to sub-optimal performance because we’re not at our peak or optimal ability. I’m only interested in giving my best to every client, patient, and person. I know you are, too.

Take this challenge with me and start by making small changes this week. Let me know what you’re doing to make your office healthier. By sharing your successes we’ll all be stronger and healthier. Let’s go get some of the $153 billion back!

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