April 29, 2019
Q: How has your background influenced your approach to employee health and fitness?
Nelson: I have a master’s degree in nutrition, which definitely influences my perspective when addressing employers’ concerns regarding employee health. My degree focus was in functional medicine, which aims to address the root cause of health problems. So I really like to get to the foundation of our clients’ needs while approaching health and wellness from a prevention angle.
I really try to work with our employer clients – and encourage my team to work with our clients – to help them look at employee health from a preventive lens by aligning the services and programs MedExpress offers to help employees avoid health issues before they happen. For example, if an employer is experiencing a higher number of workplace injuries in a particular area of their business, we can help address this problem by suggesting certain tests or adult wellness physical programs to help identify and manage chronic conditions. We also can offer educational information about preventing injuries.
Many employers we work with are in industries that expose their workers to labor-intensive activities or repetitive motions. If their employees are not fit and healthy, they are more prone to injuries, and that can lead to higher health insurance and workers’ compensation costs.
Motivating Your Employees
Q: How can employers help to motivate their employees to adopt healthier habits inside and outside the workplace?
Nelson: Creating a culture of health and wellness doesn’t have to be a big, expensive undertaking. Employers can start taking small steps today to change the way their employees think of health and wellness. For example, a recent study has shown that breaking up the time someone is sedentary every 30 minutes helps to offset some of the negative effects of prolonged sitting, which can include heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.1 Employers can encourage their employees to move more often by creating fun challenges, such as step contests or standing desk contests. We’ve helped a number of employers with materials and information for these types of activities.
Having an on-site clinic solution that includes health and wellness engagement programs can also help to make exercise a regular part of employees’ day-to-day and can really help to build a culture of total health and well-being. While that’s an option for many companies (and on-site clinic popularity is growing as an employer offering), there are also other ways to encourage health and fitness, such as partnering with local gyms to offer employee discounts.
In a larger context, employers can start thinking about reducing the barriers to good nutrition and wellness for employees. In the U.S., the number one cause of death is heart disease, and in most cases is preventable through diet and exercise.2 Employers can create ways to make it easier for their employees to make healthy choices when at work, which will carry over into their day-to-day life.
For example, did you know that food has a direct effect on a person’s mood, energy level, and overall health? Processed food and foods high in fat and sugar all can negatively affect employee productivity. These types of foods can leave an employee feeling sluggish, foggy, and not as mentally sharp. Employers are in a great position to help support their teams as they make better food choices.
To start, employers can offer more healthful foods in the workplace. For long meetings, skip the donuts and go for fruits and veggies with whole grains, which will help keep everyone alert and satisfied. When catering lunches, opt for whole foods, avoiding processed junk foods or “fast foods,” and make sure to include lots of fresh veggies with lean proteins. It’ll take a little more planning at first, but soon it’ll be company habit. If you’re looking for tips on nutrition and food choices, we offer educational "healthy handouts" for you to pass along to your employees.
Workplace Health Trends
Q: Are there new trends in workplace health and fitness?
Nelson: Health insurance companies are now partnering with employers to help offer more incentives, like money toward a deductible or a health savings account, to encourage healthy habits. For example, an employee may be eligible for an incentive when he or she completes a biometric screening or health assessment. Having insurers who have a vested interest in workplace wellness has helped to spread and support the message of employee health and fitness.
I think the best part of these new trends in workplace health and fitness is that the employers are showing a sincere interest in their employees’ health and wellbeing.
This leads to more productivity, less attrition, and an overall happier workforce.
How Disease Management Fits In
Q: What about disease management programs? Is there a difference between employee wellness programs and employee disease management programs?
Nelson: Employee wellness programs and employee disease management programs are slightly different. Employee wellness focuses on ensuring employees adopt healthier lifestyles through fitness and nutrition. Mainly focusing on prevention, wellness programs also include screening and measurement for health indicators, such as weight, BMI, cholesterol levels, and more.
Disease management programs, on the other hand, are designed to help employees manage their chronic illnesses once they are identified. This means that chronic conditions would be identified and discussed with your employee, care would be provided to treat and manage their conditions, and follow-up counseling and exams would be suggested to help employees manage their illnesses more effectively. This is a more supportive approach to getting treatment, and takes the burden off of employees to look for additional care, which can aid in increasing patient involvement and follow up.
Disease management programs are especially helpful in addressing both employer and employee needs. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control report, almost 10 percent of U.S. adults have Type 2 diabetes.3 Think about it – that means that, on average, one out of every 100 employees has Type 2 diabetes. What’s more, it’s estimated that Type 2 diabetes costs the U.S. economy $5 billion each year in absenteeism and $20.8 billion in reduced productivity at work.4 If employers can help employees more effectively identify and manage chronic conditions, it could translate to fewer days out sick and more productive, engaged employees.
I’d say the ideal mix is for employers to offer both employee wellness and disease management programs. That way, once an issue is identified, the employer can help support the employee through the healthcare process. However, for those who need to start small – due to budgeting or lack of personnel resources – improving employee health through wellness programs is a great first step.
We’re Here When You Need Us
The healthcare industry overall is moving toward a more preventive position; we want to make sure we prevent illnesses or chronic conditions before they start, and we want to do what we can to mitigate workplace injuries. There are numerous services MedExpress can offer – such as body metrics and biometric screenings – to help our employers keep their workforce fit and healthy. Of course, there will always be accidents and injuries – no matter how much we try to prevent all of them. In that case, MedExpress is here to help, too, through our workers’ compensation services.
Answers provided by Lindsay Nelson, MS, (pictured above) who is an Employer Health Services Sales Manager at MedExpress. Nelson recently graduated with her master’s degree in human nutrition, which has always been a passion of hers. She values working with employers to help them find solutions to keeping their workplace healthy and injury-free while improving employee health and wellbeing. Nelson enjoys spending time with her family, running, traveling, and cooking up healthy recipes.
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1 Diaz KM, Howard VJ, Hutto B, Colabianchi N, Vena JE, Safford MM, et al. Patterns of Sedentary Behavior and Mortality in U.S. Middle-Aged and Older Adults: A National Cohort Study. Ann Intern Med. 2017;167(7):465-475.
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease Facts. Last updated November 28, 2017. Accessed March 31, 2019.
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New CDC Report: More than 100 Million Americans Have Diabetes or Prediabetes. Last updated July 18, 2017. Accessed March 31, 2019.
4 American Diabetes Association. Economic Costs of Diabetes in the U.S. in 2012. Diabetes Care. 2013; 36(4): 1033-1046. Last updated April 2013. Accessed March 31, 2019.