Productivity: The Human Element

19 years ago I started off my career determined to help improve my clients’ quality of life through nutrition and overall wellness. I spent 9 ½ years working with people who had been diagnosed with kidney disease and realized I wanted to be on the other side working on prevention.

Making the Jump

So I made a bold move, leaving a full-time, permanent position with benefits, and jumped off a cliff into private practice with one question in mind. How exactly was I going to influence people to live healthier on a larger scale? After a few months of doing private practice I had an epiphany. I could effect change on a larger scale by providing corporate wellness programs.

Over the past 10 years I have learned a great deal while working with a variety of organizations. One thing is clear: productivity is at the heart of every business and ultimately impacts return on investment (ROI). Many advances have been made in workplace safety, technology and ergonomics, all of which have improved the work environment, improved the health and safety of employees and increased productivity. However, the one component we have yet to completely understand is the human element.

Costs on the Rise

This matters because we are facing a time when health care costs are increasing and chronic diseases are on the rise.

Since 1998, health care spending in Alberta has increased 317%. The primary drivers of the increase include physician costs, hospital budgets (60% is wages) and drug costs.¹

What is even more alarming is that, according to the World Economic Forum, productivity losses as a result of chronic disease are as much as 400% more than the cost of treating chronic disease.²

Chronic disease is causing the majority of this increase in cost. These diseases are impacted by lifestyle – obesity is the primary risk factor for heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Employee health directly impacts business via absenteeism and presenteeism. Absenteeism occurs when an employee misses work due to illness while presenteeism occurs when someone comes to work but due to unresolved mental or physical issues is unable to engage in their job. While it is virtually impossible to stay engaged 100% of the time during the day, the risk of presenteeism increases when we are struggling with chronic conditions.

Both absenteeism and presenteeism impact productivity but I was shocked to learn that lost productivity from presenteeism was far greater than productivity lost from absenteeism. The price tag of presenteeism to Canadian businesses is estimated to be a staggering 15 to 25 billion dollars per year!³

Moving Forward

We need to find innovative ways to help empower people to get engaged in their own world and understand the impact their behaviours have on their health, their quality of life, their work and their community. Programs that focus on empowerment versus prescription are significantly more effective in producing positive outcomes.

But the one human element we struggle with is behaviour change. This is the most challenging yet the most rewarding element to understand.

We humans are naturally wired to seek the most pleasure for the least amount of effort. This makes lifestyle change hard and ultimately time consuming because it’s impossible to achieve lasting success overnight.

Collaboration is key as we challenge ourselves to embrace other perspectives and create innovative approaches to helping improve our health, improve productivity, decrease chronic disease, and all live healthier and happier for longer!

Some may laugh at the grandiosity of that statement but I truly believe if we put our heads together we will make it happen and that is what I am committed to do.

[1] The Sustainability of Healthcare Spending in Canada by Bacchus Barua, Milagros Palacios and Joel Emes. Fraser Institute, May 2016.

[2] Working Towards Wellness: The Business Rationale by PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the World Economic Forum’s Working Towards Wellness team. World Economic Forum, 2008.

[3] Mental Health Issues – Facts and Figures by Workplace Strategies for Mental Health.