- By Region
Companies have found a new way to cut costs: by literally slimming down their workforces.
In the past six months employers as diverse as the New York Stock Exchange and UK retailer John Lewis have signed up US-based Weight Watchers to help staff shed some pounds – leading to healthier workers and cheaper health insurance premiums.
American Express, the financial services multinational, now has more than a fifth of its 27,000-strong US workforce enrolled on the Weight Watchers programme, whose points system encourages more moderate eating and rewards exercise.
So great is fervour among American Express employees, who are being offered free Weight Watchers membership this year, that the New York headquarters hosts three meetings a week.
“Absolutely there are savings on healthcare,” says Anita Shaughnessy, vice-president of US healthcare and wellness – herself 24lbs lighter than she was before she started the programme in January.
“But these take longer to experience. Right away, though, we see benefits on productivity. There are fewer sick days because of fewer joint problems, back problems and other related problems.”
At NYSE Euronext, Ed Hutner, senior vice-president of human resources, agrees. “Our people benefit – and so does our business,” he said when signing up in January.
Obesity and its related diseases, including diabetes and heart disease, are causing problems – and bloated medical bills – for governments and companies across the globe.
Obesity is also costing large employers in the form of rising healthcare premiums. “In the US over the past 10 years healthcare premiums for large employers have been increasing 8 per cent a year,” says David Kirchhoff, president and chief executive of Weight Watchers.
“If you can find a way to hold the line by improving the wellness of the population then, over time, the savings are substantial.”
US companies are leading the charge, but the UK and Germany are no slouches either. British health spa operator Champneys recently launched “corporate wellbeing packages” costing companies as much as £1,995 per employee.
“I think it’s going to happen over time in Europe,” says Mr Kirchhoff. “It’s a more immediate opportunity in the US because large employers are self-insured and pay healthcare costs directly, as opposed to have an insurance company bear the risks.”
PepsiCo has drawn fire from union groups in New York recently over a $50 monthly charge levied on workers who smoke or are overweight. Employees are exempt from paying the fee if they sign up to smoking cessation or weight loss programmes.