This is Part II of my post from Steve Hyde’s talk on health care reform.

As a business leader, what’s your responsibility for taking care of your employees or staff? Is it to give them a fair wage, reasonable benefits, a career path, a safe work environment, and some training? Anything else? How far do you go to help people help themselves? Is it your responsibility to help employees get healthier?

Hyde made the point that investing in disease prevention by screening everyone is a waste of money. He sited research published in the New England Journal of Medicine using fifty years of data to support his point. Think about it, testing a large percentage of a population to find the 5% that have a disease doesn’t pay.

The alternative is to give people a reason to manage their own health. Hyde encouraged businesses to offer economic incentives for employees to manage the six indicators for illnesses that account for 75% of medical treatments.

I think you can guess at least five of the six indicators. Here they are:

  1. High blood pressure.
  2. High cholesterol.
  3. Smoking.
  4. Alcohol abuse.
  5. Obesity
  6. High blood sugar.

The high blood sugar may be surprise yet diabetes has become epidemic in the US.

Giving people a financial incentive to eat differently or stop smoking may work. At least it will increase awareness and will make those most likely to need health care to pay more for it. Such programs may not be “fair” given some people can just about anything they want and watch cable all day and they don’t gain weight, etc.–their bodies aren’t predisposed to many of the diseases to which these indicators are tied. One the other hand, if I am healthy, I don’t want to subsidize the health care cost of people who contribute to their own illness via lifestyle choices.

So how far do you go to help others help themselves? If your employees are your most important asset I guess I would go pretty far. Community, government, family, and church support structures either don’t exist or they lack the influence they once had.

If business doesn’t help people who will?

I know that helping people live more healthy lives goes well beyond telling employees to eat less fast food and exercise more – there are more systemic issues at play.

Yet I can’t think of a better way to meet leaders’ needs for meaning and service than to help their employees help themselves. Employee health is a great place to start.