Is Your Employees’ Health Their Own Private Matter?

My health is my affair, right? If I decide to stuff my face, never get off the couch, and chew tobacco until the cows come home, whose business is that but mine and maybe my family’s?

You’ll hear that response if you conduct focus groups about health and wellness.

Is it a fair position? Do companies have a place in their employees’ health? Or, is employee health a private matter?

I’m going with the classic consultant answer: it depends.

Do companies have a right to see each individual’s medical and prescription history? To know that I’m personally popping enough Lexapro to keep a small country ebullient for a lifetime? No, companies don’t have that right — in my opinion, and legally.

Do they have the right to know that their employees are collectively under enough stress to collapse the George Washington Bridge, and the phone’s been ringing off the hook at the EAP about it? Yup.

Do they have the right to alter what’s being offered at the company cafeteria, and in the vending machines, and to provide incentives to alter what their employees eat? Whether they smoke? And to help get their butts moving on a regular basis? You betcha.

Can they say, “I’ll give you benefits when you complete our health risk assessment?” And, can their insurance partner reach out to you if that assessment shows significant health risks that personal health coaching could lower? What do you think? Bingo!

And I’ll tell you why — because they’re on the hook for the outcome.

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On average, employers pay 75–80 percent of employees’ and their families’ premium, which also allows for the $25 copay, 20 percent coinsurance, and free diabetic prescriptions. That’s not factoring in the lost revenue from absenteeism, disability, lowered productivity, and presenteeism. (Realistically, we all pay through increased health care costs and suppressed wages, but try telling your employees that Joe in accounting wants them to put down that donut.)

For a very long time, companies have shied away from talking about the true cost of health care — to their employees, to the business, and to their combined fate. Because of this, it’s a very difficult conversation when all of a sudden an employer is butting their nose into what’s typically considered a very private matter: our health and health habits.

Like your Mom and Dad presuming that they get a say in the invite list, the seating arrangements, and the spread when they’re footing the bill for your wedding, companies have an active interest in their employees’ health. And just as with Mom and Dad, we may not like it, but it’s justifiable.

And if we really don’t like it, the other option is to just foot the bill ourselves.

This was originally published on Fran Melmed’s free-range communications blog.


5 Comments on “Is Your Employees’ Health Their Own Private Matter?

  1. You mentioned that the only “other option is to just foot the bill ourselves.” Well, I think there's another option — well, maybe not right now, as it might require some tweaks to the tax laws in the U.S. — and that would be to have employers less involved in benefits administration and all of what that involves as you outlined above, but not uninvolved in footing the bill. In other words, the employer hands the employee a check (a virtual check, nowadays), and the employer buys health insurance somewhat similar to buying auto insurance. Moving to a more employee-driven health insurance system would also have the advantage of being more in line with the growing use of contingent employment.

  2. hey todd. thanks for commenting. there's a third option, the public option. but i'd bet we'd agree that neither of these options will be implemented any time soon. in the meantime, we'll definitely be seeing more companies try to educate, involve (coerce?) their employees to better health. it's going to make for interesting times.


  3. What is health insurance for? Is it to help those who need help, or is it to help health insurance companies profit? Obviously the latter. This current system of business/money/profit makes me sick!

    Why don't we just stop pretending we want to help other people and just let them die—or suffer—whilst we laugh at such fools for falling for the advertising gimmicks that subconsciously made them addicted to fast food, alcohol, tobacco, and other unhealthy life styles…or for being born poor and forced to labor so long that their sickening bodies start to rot?! Some psychopaths must really love this Nazi-esk direction current forms of greed are driving our planet!

    Meanwhile, now that Wal-Mart laid off my mother because she's become partially disabled (not that their lawyers would agree with this fact) do to her many years of physical labor she's provided them among other all other greedy companies she's worked for. And now that I've landed a career in the disgusting business of mass advertising for one of the world’s largest companies, I will have to pay for her to get medication and medical help…not to mention help her live since no employers will want to hire her because of her “pre-existing conditions.” …Like it's her fault for not being lucky in life.

    Why don't we stop consuming the ideologies that are corrupting all systems of…well everything? I recently watched the Zeitgeist & Zeitgeist Addendum movies (I implore you to watch them too, their on YouTube so you can watch them free) and though I don’t completely agree with everything they present—they at least are trying to work out ideas that could benefit all beings. What are you doing besides looking out for yourselves???

    Someday, maybe after my mother dies I will be able to quit my career so I can focus all my energy on digging into philosophical ethical issues and help work towards the benefit of humanity. Cause after all I don’t care about myself as much as I care about everyone. But then again if I do that I might become an enemy of the state and be murdered for my good works…


  4. hi, socrate's apprentice. no problem with the grammar errors. happens to me all of the time!

    i'm very sorry to hear about your mother's situation and her experience. our health care system certainly doesn't want for fixes, and that can extend to how employers think about their employees' health. is it a liability? or is it an opportunity? from my perspective, employers who think about their employees' health as an opportunity understand that it's in everyone's best interest–physically, mentally, emotionally and financially–to improve our collective health and well-being. in the U.S., companies more often enter the discussion from the perspective of cost containment. in other countries, they focus on health and well-being for better productivity, higher degrees of engagement with the work that's being done, decreased absenteeism, increased safety, etc. if you speak with people at zappos, as i have, they are focusing on happiness.

    may your mom be well and may you not suffer for your good works 😉


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