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Accounting For Employee Health

When we take into account employee health and wellbeing, we are doing exactly that - accounting; which sounds like it should be simple, right? We work with accountants, they make it look easy. They might say that it’s time-consuming and requires precision and accuracy because of all of the variables, but most would agree that there are clear guidelines, clear rules, and clear procedures.

So why isn’t accounting for employee’s health and wellbeing as neat and clear? What are we missing?

Obviously, the two things are nowhere near the same. The fact is that almost nothing is clear when we account for health and wellbeing. Certainly, as a line item on a spreadsheet, there is clarity; we see that cost. What we don’t see is the reconciliation for that cost. For example, we don’t see regular health improvements. Instead, we see increased instances of obesity, chronic disease, and the ever-growing costs associated with medications.

When we were working in our offices, campuses, classrooms, and factories, we had some idea of what was happening with our employees and we could make some kind of connection between these costs and our employee population. We knew if they were present. We knew if they ate anything or if they were drinking water. We knew if they took their lunch break to work out. We knew if they went for walks to get their steps in or if they took a dozen breaks to smoke outside. We could be reasonably certain of the status of our employees’ health and wellbeing at least spatially and temporally during the workday within the workspace. Now, with huge chunks of our workforce working from home, we have to rescope these connections.

Because we literally cannot see our employees, we must look at their health differently. This is challenging because our efforts to date have predominantly focused on what’s right in front of us; we’ve looked at things like physical health, biometrics, and the spaces we’ve created to provide employees the opportunity to move and exercise. We’ve offered to pay people to change their habits, to modify their behavior through smoking cessation programs, gym memberships, and lowered premiums. We’ve provided onsite yoga, healthy snacks, and places to practice mindfulness, all within our comfortable and inviting workspaces. We’ve done everything in our power to make our workplaces a lotus of health and wellbeing and now for most of us, the majority of our employees are working from home.

We know health thrives and wanes as a result of factors far beyond physical fitness and nutritional intake, beyond the walls and windows of our workplaces, beyond compensation and careers. We’ve learned that the home has a tremendous impact on an individual’s health and the most important factors that shape and influence an employees’ experience begin there. The neighborhood that home sits in plays a role. The relationships with people within the home and the neighborhood play a role. The composition of the community at large has an impact — Is it safe? Is it clean? Are there grocery stores nearby? Are there parks? Are the sidewalks in good shape? Is the community economically stable?

There are so many things we don’t know relative to where our employees live. However, this is where our employees are working, so this is where our focus needs to shift. We need to know whether or not our employees have a computer and access to wifi. We need to know if they have reliable transportation and safe housing.

In our future efforts to have a positive influence on employee health, we must account for the fact that the best place to prevent illness, address risk factors and reduce disease is in the homes of our workforce. This is where health happens. If we really want to account for our employee’s health and wellbeing, we need to start there.

Patty Starr bio image

About the author

Patty Starr

Patty Starr is president and CEO of Health Action Council and is responsible for driving the strategic direction of the organization--build stronger, healthier communities where business can thrive. 

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