How would you react if your boss asked for your blood pressure? What about your smoking habits? Or your Body Mass Index? What if everyone in your workplace was asked to report his or her health metrics – privately and confidentially – as part of an effort to make you and your co-workers healthier?
Too many Americans are dying prematurely from preventable heart disease, diabetes, cancers and lung diseases. Risky behaviors such as tobacco use, unhealthful diets and physical inactivity are common. The workplace, a structured environment where working Americans spend a good portion of their lives, is the ideal site to influence change and teach healthy habits.
What is not measured is often ignored. That's why companies must collect and publicly report the health metrics of their workforces.
Some companies already measure employee health. And last month’s announcement that the executives of 22 corporations are teaming with the American Heart Association to make their workplaces more healthy is a step in the right direction. But more must be done.
Workforce health metrics need to be publicly reported.
Frankly, CEOs care about what is measured and publicly reported. When workforce health data becomes public and is compared across industries, just like financial data is now, employee health will become a priority. Your employer will be motivated to help you quit smoking, get more exercise and eat more nutritious food. Your boss will care about your health and you and your family will benefit.
Your company will also benefit. A healthy workforce is an asset. Fewer sick days mean more productivity, more innovation and more profit. So it only makes sense that investors should look at workforce health metrics when making investment decisions.
Research backs this up. A recent study by researcher and physician Ray Fabius tracked the stock market performance of a group of U.S. companies that had won awards for their health and safety programs. The study found that, between 1999 and 2012, a portfolio of these companies would have produced a return that outperformed the S&P 500.
Furthermore, workforce health meets the SEC criteria of being truly material to corporate health. Companies suffer when employees have to leave the workforce prematurely because of their own poor health or to care for a sick relative.
Some companies will resist the effort to tell the world about the health of their workforce. These companies likely already know their employees could be healthier, yet so far, have been unmotivated to do something about it. These are the companies that would benefit the most from workforce health metric reporting.
Employees, understandably, might be concerned about revealing their personal health metrics to their employer. That is why data collection must be undertaken privately, in a way that does not link data to an individual employee, and only reports on the workforce as a whole. Employee anonymity must be maintained. And employers cannot be allowed to discriminate based on health.
Our jobs have a major impact on our lives and health. Employers have a responsibility to help employees live healthy lives. Publicly reporting workforce health metrics is the first step toward making you and your company healthier.
Derek Yach is executive director of the Vitality Institute, a think tank focused on health promotion and prevention of chronic disease. He is chairman of the board of Cornerstone Capital, chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Advisory Council on Aging, and former executive director for noncommunicable diseases and mental health at the World Health Organization.