Fat Chance: The Declining Health Of The World's Employees

Remember this the next time you take a drag on that stogie: you may be partly responsible for sucking three percent a year out of the world’s gross domestic product.

Remember this the next time you take a drag on that stogie: you may be partly responsible for sucking three percent a year out of the world’s gross domestic product.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, along with the World Economic Forum, unveiled a report Monday essentially chronicling just how fat and less productive workers around the globe have become.

It’s not appetizing.

PwC says that, as work becomes more sedentary, workers are becoming fatter, sicker, and less productive because of chromic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. In fact, the report says there are now more people in the world who are overweight than hungry. (It probably comes as no shock that the U.S. is the fattest nation in the world, but it may come as a surprise that China and India are growing fatter at a faster pace.)

While pointing out that governments are typically charged with managing major global health risks, the report calls on CEOs around the world to make wellness an integral part of their business strategy.

“There are quantifiable benefits from using wellness programs to attract and retain talented and healthy employees,” said Simon Leary, a partner at PwC LLP, the UK arm of PwC. “You can improve the health and well-being of your workers while also bolstering your bottom line. The economic case for prevention is overwhelming.”

Indeed, the company says two percent of capital spent on the workforce is lost to disability, absenteeism and presenteeism (diminished productivity from sick employees who go to work but work below par) due to chronic disease. Combined, PwC says, these indirect costs are more than the additional direct medical claim costs that some employers incur. Meanwhile, it says corporate wellness programs have been shown to provide a 3-to-1 return on investment.

As part of its research PwC surveyed multi-national employers representing more than three million workers worldwide and found a growing emphasis on health prevention in the workplace. Among the findings:

     - More than half expect to introduce or expand corporate wellness programs over the next five years.
     - One-third are rolling out comprehensive wellness programs in multiple countries, while another 17 percent are unveiling a single wellness program in multiple countries.
     - The two leading reasons cited for promoting wellness were “reducing indirect costs associated with absenteeism, presenteeism, disability and workers compensation” and “improving work performance, such as productivity and quality.”

PwC founds that of the 20 largest multi-national companies in the world, 15 published corporate responsibility reports online last year, and of those, 93 percent emphasized their commitment to improving the health of employees.

Food for thought.

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