Technology for a healthy workplace

New tools can help maximize benefits of wellness programs

There is a direct connection between employee well-being and engagement. A workplace that addresses its employees’ health problems and concerns can decrease absenteeism, increase productivity and lower health-care costs.

Technology has a key role to play in achieving a healthy workplace. New tools can help employees get the maximum benefit from wellness programs by improving access to information and services. For HR, the collection and reporting features of these new tools provide the centralized data needed to design, monitor and assess the programs it offers.

Absence management

A first step towards building a healthy workplace is analyzing the extent to which absenteeism is a problem. Human resource management systems (HRMS) enable employers to flag high-absence situations, identify reasons for absenteeism and intervene where appropriate — all at the click of a button.

Absenteeism is a huge financial burden. Statistics Canada estimates absenteeism costs employers more than $11 billion a year — that’s roughly $350 for every man, woman and child in Canada. The ability to track and treat causes of employee absence has bottom-line benefits, but it also lets organizations address employee needs properly, whether excessive absences are due to stress, depression or some other cause.

Even if extreme absenteeism is not a problem, wellness initiatives can improve employee morale and health. Again, technology can come into play particularly in the form of Web-based tools. Employees can access information about and enrol in various wellness programs that companies offer online, and use self-service tools to maintain relevant data.

Health risk assessments

Establishing a wellness plan consists of a number of steps. One of the key components is a needs assessment and analysis to ensure the efforts undertaken will have the desired results.

Health risk assessments are not new, but technology is enabling them to be administered more easily and effectively. Companies can survey employees via the Internet or their own intranets to gauge employees’ health status and concerns. And because employees are able to submit answers anonymously, they may be more forthcoming in their responses.

There are a variety of assessments available designed to test for various sorts of information. An organization can make more than one health risk assessment available to employees, something easily accomplished using an online approach. Employees may complete a basic health questionnaire, a lifestyle assessment or a more comprehensive wellness survey. All of the data from the surveys can be completed in one location and easily reported on using various tools.

Health education

If there is an educational component to the program, technology can again come into play, either with links to reliable Internet sites — such as an employer’s insurer or employee assistance plan provider — all easily contained within the organization's HRMS or linked to information housed on the company’s intranet. Health risk assessment results may also trigger automatic links to online information, according to the data received. Armed with this knowledge, employees may be moved to take better care of themselves.

Online instruction can help make employees better health-care consumers. Explanations of various medical tests and procedures, information about preventive measures and tips for healthy living — including things like stress management and smoking cessation — all contribute to increased consumer awareness and lower health-care expenses.

Results measurement

New tools can measure progress for employees and the employer. While staff can monitor the changes they’ve made individually, organizations can — and should — do the same on an aggregate basis. Data warehousing provides a central location for all of the wellness data to be stored together with other relevant data so organizations can continually report on the successes of the program.

By monitoring use and satisfaction with the program, employers will be able to assess the success of healthy workplace programs.

Over time, shifts in workforce demographics and conditions — such as a downsizing — may require organizations to make changes to wellness programs. The speed, reliability and breadth of reporting capabilities enable employers to gain a thorough understanding of how initiatives are working at any time and make changes as needed.

Ergonomics assessments

The physical environments in which employees must work can have an effect on their health. Conducting an ergonomic evaluation of a work environment requires expertise in this area. But even the experts find the job that much easier, thanks to technology.

Ergonomic assessors are now able to conduct on-the-spot evaluations of workspaces, inputting data into handheld devices for subsequent reporting.

Workplace health and safety initiatives

Good health and safety management can reduce loss and damage resulting from on-the-job accidents, injuries and illnesses.

Technology allows employers to house information relevant to employee health — things like allergies, blood type and disabilities — centrally with other HRMS data. It also helps injured workers pursue workers’ compensation claims and initiate disability management systems. By doing so, organizations are able to ensure all legal requirements are met, claims are processed speedily and employees are returned to work as quickly as possible.

An effective wellness program requires expertise. Few employers are able to handle all aspects of the program and most look to outside providers or software for assistance. Fortunately, while it’s necessary for employers to avail themselves of a number of sources in order to provide a comprehensive program, extensible markup language (XML) integration ensures these add-ons are compatible with the majority of human resource management systems.

Jeff Koven leads product strategy for Hewitt Associates’ eCyborg HRMS solution. For more information contact [email protected] or visit Look for his next column in the May 17 Guide to Recruitment and Staffing.

To read the full story, login below.

Not a subscriber?

Start your subscription today!