Helping At-Risk Employees Find Better Health

So, who would be considered an “at-risk employee? At-risk employees suffer from health issues like being overweight, high blood pressure, diabetes, lack of energy, depression, which can all lead to very costly (and avoidable) health claims. At-risk individuals should be identified through personal health assessments, thermal scans, DNA tests, and biometric testing. They should be encouraged — not forced, or coerced — to participate in personalized care-management programs to minimize their chances of becoming chronically ill.

While keeping at-risk employees healthy is highly important, the shorter-term workplace-wellness ROI lies with the chronically ill employees, who suffer from costly conditions like advanced diabetes, heart conditions, chronic pain, and cancer. In a typical workplace, chronically ill employees consume at least 50% of a company’s claims expense and focusing on them can make or break your claims ROI.

Focusing on programs for chronically ill employees and enrolling them into disease-management programs that ensure they get appropriate care, has the most potential to reduce insurance premiums. For example, a program that preempts 20 unnecessary emergency department visits can easily save $40,000, while preventing four-inpatient stays can save at least $100,000. Savings like these are very realistic for self-funded companies.

Business leaders must get employees to buy-in to this idea – this is really is crucial. Leaders must first realize that they cannot “make” employees live healthier lifestyles. That type of strategy will only create resistance, and our goal is to increase participation. Incentives play an important role and can create some solid buy-in, but they can’t single handedly drive long-term lifestyle changes. On the opposite end, penalizing employees hurts morale when the wellness program is viewed as a stealth form of trying to get the employees to participate to save the company money. Employees need to feel like the wellness program will be fun, rewarding, will build teamwork and morale, and will contribute to a supportive workplace environment, much less long-term wellness.

In order for all of this to work, employees must trust the program and the employer’s motives, which requires visible CEO leadership, plus senior management buy-in. Employers should show employees the true cost of health care coverage for their employees, how those numbers have changed over the past few years, and the projected trajectory in the future if something doesn’t change for the positive. This kind of transparency will also help the team to buy in to the program.

Sure, concrete health costs are important measures of ROI, but we must also include the many benefits of fostering greater workforce health and well-being that can actually exceed the claims of ROI.

According to a 2012 Gallup State of the American Workplace study, employees with high overall “good health and well-being” have 41% lower health-related costs. This is compared with employees who are struggling and 62% lower costs – compared with employees who are suffering.” Another study by Willis, Towers, Perrin Co. supports this finding that more employers enjoy major financial returns and competitive advantages through higher employee engagement, productivity workplace morale.

As these studies show, the ROI debate misses the bigger picture. Any C-Suite executive should know that businesses invest in many things to improve workplace environments without justifying these costs with an ROI study. I would argue that when Workplace Wellness is viewed holistically without ignoring or undervaluing the total return on wellness beyond reduced claim expenses, companies can expect:

  • reduced absenteeism and presenteeism
  • greater employee engagement and productivity
  • less unscheduled paid time off
  • fewer workers’ comp claims
  • greater employee retention
  • increased employee satisfaction and morale, and
  • a measurable competitive advantage

It’s time to correct course and double down on Workplace Wellness for employees. When done right, Workplace Wellness offers both short – and long-term financial and competitive returns, and provides an alternative to the toxic, zero-sum game of reducing health coverage and increasing employee insurance costs. This is a huge opportunity that cannot be missed!

Brian Hazelgren is an American Best-Selling Author, and Entrepreneur. He has written 14 books, and this article is an excerpt from his book Healthy Habits of Highly Productive Employees. You can reach Brian anytime at, or visit his website


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