Occ health programs and key business objectives

Solve problems that keep managers awake at night

[Editor's Note: This is the second part of a three-part series on using financial data to demonstrate the value of occupational health programs. Last month, we gave strategies to demonstrate cost savings to your employer and provided a checklist of data you should present. This month, we explore how to show that occupational health programs impact business objectives. In next month's issue, we'll cover identifying the top health care cost drivers at your workplace.]

Do you think of the mission of your department as financial? What you do — keeping employees healthy and productive; creating a culture of health and well-being; and reducing absenteeism, presenteeism, and health costs — can and should translate into dollars and cents, advises Kay N. Campbell, EdD, RN-C, COHN-S, FAAOHN, president-elect of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses.

"Generally nurses align along 'people' lines, but we need to align along 'cost' lines," says Campbell. "The individual employee who comes to see you for help is one of your customers, but don't forget that management and the company is maybe your most important customer," she says.

Connect the work that you do with business objectives for your particular company or organization, says Campbell. For example, keeping employees productive improves presenteeism, health promotion decreases health care costs, case management increases attendance, and all of these impact the company's bottom line, she says. For example, absenteeism is very important from a business perspective, because the company is paying benefits and health care costs while not having someone there to do the job, says Campbell.

"Get out of your clinical areas, and speak to senior management about what keeps them awake at night," she advises. "Take that information and think about what programs and services would impact those concerns. That becomes the marketing and selling tools that you use for that part of the business."

Don't expect to hear managers tell you they're worried about employees coming to work healthy or that employees aren't taking care of themselves. "What you'll probably hear is about having to be more productive with fewer resources in these challenging economic times," says Campbell.

Manufacturers may vent about the challenge of producing quality products with limited resources, and sales and marketing may worry about increased competition, says Campbell. "At first glance, you might think 'I don't have anything to do with that.' But you do," she says. "Your job is to give employees tools for them to come to work every day fully engaged, with energy and vitality."

Show the connection

After you've identified programs that support key business objectives, the next step is "connecting the dots" to show the link between the two, says Campbell. Though it's great to have dramatic dollar figures to flaunt, it's not absolutely necessary, she adds.

You don't necessarily need earth-shattering data, Campbell says. "There may not be any," she says. However, you do need to be a collaborative partner with the business, Campbell says. "It doesn't have to be 'You are getting a 2 for 1 ROI if you put this program in place,'" she says. "It might be more intuitive. If we can keep employees healthy, we know we'll have a more productive workforce."

Tie occupational health programs to reduced absenteeism, less lost time due to mental health issues, fewer employee relations issues, or fewer product recalls, says Campbell. She recommends collecting data on the number of employees who participated in a wellness program, or how many employees changed their diet or lifestyle as a result of a program. "That is all good information, and you should share it anytime you put a program in place," says Campbell.

Survey employees with a question such as, "How proud are you of the company?" and then put initiatives in place to promote a culture of health, says Campbell. "Then ask the same question six months later. Did it improve? If so, then take credit for that improvement," she says.

Unless you show a return on investment and market your services, the occupational health program might go to outside vendors, warns Annette B. Haag, MA, RN, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, a Simi Valley, CA-based consultant. "This scenario has played out in many companies. The company is looking for return on investment," Haag says. "The nurse is the investment, and you've got to show your return."

Haag recommends selecting one area to track, such as developing functional job analysis to incorporate into a return-to-work program. "Benchmark with other companies, tailor a program to meet the needs of your company, and then monitor it closely," she recommends.

On a regular basis, review the data contained in loss runs, determine your company's experience modification rate, and take credit for the reduction in direct and indirect costs by submitting regular reports on your program, advises Haag.

Management doesn't know your business like you do, Campbell says. It's your job to get them to see occupational health as more than a service "add on," something needed just for regulatory purposes, or a "freebie" for the employees, she says. "If they see some tangible improvements along the way, they will view you as an essential business partner within the organization contributing to the success of the company," Campbell says. "That is where we need to be."


For more information on aligning occupational health programs with business objectives, contact:

  • Kay N. Campbell, EdD, RN-C, COHN-S, FAAOHN, Global Health and Productivity, GlaxoSmithKline, Research Triangle Park, NC. Phone: (919) 483-2185. Fax: (919) 483-8535. E-mail: kay.n.campbell@gsk.com.
  • Annette B. Haag, MA, RN, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, President, Annette B. Haag & Associates, Simi Valley, CA. Telephone: (805) 581-3234. E-mail: annettehaag@roadrunner.com.