A multinational perspective on fighting chronic disease in the workplace

In 2009, Towers Watson conducted a survey seeking to tap the pulse of what multinational companies are doing globally to manage health care costs and risks, support productivity goals, and retain talented workers.

The study, Workforce Health Strategies: A Multinational Perspective, which sought input from human resource and health and wellness executives in North America and Asia, confirmed that companies with workforce health strategies do apply these strategies on a global scale. Not surprisingly, the respondents attributed many of their key challenges to employee well-being and productivity to stress, an aging workforce and chronic disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, obesity and heart disease.

Historically, chronic diseases have posed challenges to U.S. companies, but now, the issue is becoming increasingly prevalent in emerging economies, making chronic disease a key issue for multinational companies. Still, a relatively low percentage of companies surveyed - 26 percent, to be exact – have programs in place globally to prevent and address chronic conditions, behavioral issues, stress and other problems that can compromise employee well-being and productivity. The result? An impacted bottom-line.

So how are companies addressing the issues at hand? The results remain varied. Workforce Health Strategies revealed that the international companies best meeting health and wellness objectives were those who provided not only screening and prevention programs but also case management programs to coordinate, monitor and improve care and disease management programs to address chronic conditions.

In other words, company success lies in prevention and disease management solutions – a two-tiered focus that I have long touted on this blog and beyond. In a highly competitive global economy, health and wellness strategies impact not only competitiveness but also the bottom-line results. Successful multinational companies recognize that early screening and prevention, effective intervention through appropriate management of chronic disease, and other innovative approaches to employee wellness are the keys to building and to retaining a skilled and effective workforce. After all, to truly fight chronic disease, we – whether it is at a corporate level or federal level – should be providing prevention and disease management solutions to our employees and citizens globally. Only then will the cost of these conditions emotionally, financially and physically be alleviated.