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Don's report archive

by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.
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Wellness in the Headlines
(Don's Report to the World)

A New Strategy for Worksite Wellness: Hire the Old, Retire the Young

Thursday September 4, 2008


For years, I've argued that REAL, positive quality of life wellness, not risk reduction activity, is the only way companies will control health care costs. The key to effective worksite wellness is healthy employees. Workers must be motivated to choose wisely and be experienced at sustaining such good intentions over time.

Now ask yourself: Which of the following two approaches is most likely to result in a workforce that practices healthy lifestyles?

  1. Policies that encourage risk reduction and medical management?
     
  2. Policies that encourage healthy people?

Of course, this is not an either/or choice. Nevertheless, other things being the same, it's easier and less expensive to create policies that support healthy people and that assist them in staying healthy than it is to convince those with high-risk lifestyles to reform their ways.

If you agree with me so far, then you might be shocked at my next idea. I think the best way for companies to lower their health insurance costs is to hire and retain old people. Specifically, create incentives for senior employees NOT to retire until they can't possibly do the job anymore. In addition, focus search efforts for new employees not on college campuses but in nursing homes. Also, advertise for needed workers in retirement communities, among the membership ranks of AARP and by inviting younger employees to share information about job openings with their parents - and grandparents.

Have I gone mad? Not at all. There is evidence to support this proposed shift in focus. New evidence indicates that the oldest workers, those in their 60's, have the best lifestyles. These are the people with behavior patterns clearly associated with the lowest risks of illness. Furthermore, they are less likely to engage in high risk, adrenaline-pumping activities linked with high accident rates. Furthermore, employees in their 60's are less inclined to get pregnant -- and thus less likely to boost medical costs and down time expenses attendant upon that sort of thing.

In the new study mentioned above, older workers (60 and over) were three times more likely to exercise regularly, follow healthy dietary practices, maintain a positive outlook, enjoy strong social support and have lower stress levels than those in their 30's.

The study, conducted by ComPsych Corporation, revealed that younger employees, unlike their senior counterparts, were  "remarkably inactive," according to Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, chairman and CEO of the research organization. This was explained in part as a consequence of the fact that "the 30-somethings are more likely to be consumed in raising a family, and aren't allocating the time for exercise." (See "New Study Shows Older Employees Are Healthiest, Workers in 30s Most at Risk for Illness," August 25, 2008, ComPsych Corporation.)

These variations mean that younger workers are most likely to develop long-term health problems and thereby add strains to the medical cost burden already inhibiting corporate competitiveness and profits. The Kaiser Foundation's most recent (2007) annual national survey of company health insurance costs documented a 78 percent rise in expenses since 2001. This is more than four times the pace of prices and wages.

The gaps in lifestyle patterns between the older and younger workers reveal quite clearly the merits of my worksite wellness plan of hiring and retaining old people and putting the young out to pasture. Consider these specific findings:

I rest my case. Be well and always look on the bright side of life.

Domain: physical
Subdomain: appearance and aging

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