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The High Cost of Poor Health at Work — More Than Just Premiums

Building a comprehensive strategy around employee health

Brandy Lappi //September 19, 2019//

The High Cost of Poor Health at Work — More Than Just Premiums

Building a comprehensive strategy around employee health

Brandy Lappi //September 19, 2019//

Poor lifestyle choices increase the risk of chronic conditions, which have a negative effect on your employees’ lives and can raise your premiums. They also make it harder to be productive, lead to more sick days and increase worker compensation costs. The good news is that many lifestyle risks can be affected by behavior change — which companies are uniquely positioned to influence.

Any business, no matter how small, can create a workplace culture that encourages healthy lifestyles. And since employees spend an average of 47 hours per week at work, your work environment is ground zero for encouraging healthy lifestyles.

The costs of health problems add up, per employee: 

  • Costs to treat heart disease averages a staggering $19,000 per employee, per year
  • Untreated depression costs $9,450 per employee, per year in absenteeism and lost productivity
  • Smoking costs $5,800 per employee, per year
  • Diabetes costs $4,413 per employee, per year
  • Obesity costs $4,237 per employee, per year
  • High Blood Pressure costs $1,077 per employee, per year

You can take small steps to improve your workplace, but you’ll get better results with a comprehensive strategy that includes building a culture of health and getting your leadership team engaged. Here are four simple steps for laying a foundation to get leadership on board with your plan, organizing your program activities and making it easy for your employees to adopt healthy lifestyles.


Launching a workforce health program may seem like a complex undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be. To start, assess where your organization stands on workforce health. This means getting business owner, CEO or leadership team support. Once you have that, conducting employee surveys to determine your most pressing workforce wellness needs becomes easy. Let your leadership know your plan includes gathering constant employee feedback, communications strategies to get the word out to employees and data measurement to track success of the program.


Informed by employee feedback, you’re ready to plan your workforce health strategy. This means setting goals and clear definitions of success. Appoint a dedicated wellness champion or form a wellness committee to generate momentum. This person or team will be responsible for developing a calendar of events and a communications schedule that will keep the rest of your workforce involved throughout the length of your program.


Now you’re ready to launch the program and engage employees. See if your current health care provider offers resources, tools and programs to encourage participation in your program. To bolster engagement, don’t forget to communicate about your program to your employees. Ongoing communications will help to promote your program, keep the excitement going and celebrate successes.


Finally, you’ll want to measure and evaluate your program’s success. Use surveys to track employee progress, participation and interest. Learn from mistakes and look for improvement opportunities. And always share health wins, participation numbers and other positive outcomes with your employees.

There are many ways to build your culture of workplace health — developing a plan is just the first step. Make sure you have the right health care partner who can help deliver programs like the one laid out above — one who can help you manage short-and long-term costs while maintaining the high-quality care your employees deserve. After all, healthier employees are the foundation of a strong business.

Brandy Lappi is the director of workforce health and onsite employer services at Kaiser Permanente Colorado.