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The (Short) History of Employee Maintenance Programs

Onsite Physical Therapy Center

During the most recent economic boom in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was an increasingly popular trend in the development of employee wellness programs in the workplace. These programs typically featured an on-site fitness center, massage or physical therapists, and training sessions.

Where Were We Then?

As part of the trend, employers who offered the programs attempted to position their business as the ideal choice for job-hunters seeking a non-traditional workplace. All of a sudden, employees were lifting weights during lunch hour, getting massages in between meetings, and running on the treadmill before the end of a shift.

This came at the height of the technology-boom, and along with the fading of that era went the popularity of integrating new, state-of-the-art employee maintenance programs in the workplace. Since then, some employers have reverted to traditional benefit packages, and the workplace healthcare model is more or less back in its old-fashioned, reactive state.

Some Statistics

A 2004 study by Cigna, a leading health insurance provider, showed that 26 percent of short-term disability claims related to medical events were the result of a chronic condition that could have likely been addressed and reduced or eliminated through a company wellness program. According to the study, these cases account for 56 percent of medical costs related to short-term disabilities.

Currently, experts in the field agree that employee maintenance programs allow employers to improve their workforce in the areas of healthcare premiums, prescription costs, short-term disability claims, absenteeism, and presenteeism. It is estimated that a company’s investment in employee maintenance programs can bring a return of 200 to 450 percent.

Where Are We Today?

Although we have witnessed great strides in the progress for employee maintenance programs in the workplace, there is still much work left to be done. Only 50 percent of workplaces with 750 or more employees currently provide some time of health promotion program. For smaller workforces, the figure is more like 33 percent.

We are starting to see shifts in corporate values when it comes to the health of their employees; big corporations such as Target are now only considering applicants who do not use tobacco. But that’s just scraping the tip of the iceberg of potential for costly, health-related incidents. Employers need to begin to care for their employees in the same way that they care for machinery and tools; if employees do not receive regular maintenance care, they too will break down and the employer will foot the repair bill.

What do you think is the greatest benefit of having an employee maintenance program on the jobsite? Do you think we will see the trend of employers offering employee maintenance programs fire up again? If so, when? Let us know in the comments section below.

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