Trends In Workplace Health Promotion
Founder, The WorkCare Group
2, Number 1
Christopher Breuleux, PhD, RMT
President, Medical Wellness
Mr. Pfeiffer, you started your career in health promotion, over 30
years ago. What have been some of the notable changes you have seen
during your career?
Pfeiffer: I started out as an Executive Fitness Specialist
for Xerox Corporation. I worked with senior managers in promoting
cardiovascular health and risk reduction. This model was common to
most corporate programs back in the early 1970s—exclusive, medically
oriented, and highly personalized. In fact, my responsibilities and
expertise would be very similar to what we call personal training
and wellness coaching today.
Into the 80s, corporate wellness programs evolved into comprehensive
health management programs that involved health risk assessment,
periodic health screenings, awareness/education, and risk
intervention. Within the past decade, disease management programs
have been introduced, reflective of an aging workforce and the
increasing prevalence of chronic health conditions.
Finally, the concept of health and productivity management has
become part of the health promotion vernacular and is being
cautiously received by the employee benefit community.
MW: Is the concept of health, performance and productivity
management something new to worksite health promotion?
Pfeiffer: Not at all. Productivity enhancement has always
been part of our benefit statement. It is intuitive that health and
productivity are inextricably linked—that healthy employees use
fewer health resources, are less absent, disabled, and better
engaged in their work, as compared to employees who have a lower
health status. Today, through integrated data warehouses and new
metrics, we are able to quantify these associations. For example,
the concept of “presenteeism”—being physically present on the job,
but being task impaired because of health status, is an evolving
indirect cost metric that can be two to three times direct medical
costs. This type of metric, challenges decision-makers to rethink
the value proposition of employee health and wellness from
exclusively a cost center to that of performance management.
MW: How realistic is this proposition?
Pfeiffer: It is very challenging when we are faced with
double-digit annual increases in health care spending. The litmus
test will be when decision-makers understand that keeping employees
healthy and helping others manage a chronic condition has greater
potential cost savings, then focusing exclusively on direct
expenditures. The bottom line is that quantifying productivity
impairment or enhancement in relation to health and risk status is
MW: What role do you see wellness and complimentary medical
practices playing within worksite health promotion?
Pfeiffer: First, employees like any other health care
consumer are already trying CAM approaches. I believe health
promotion practitioners in conjunction with employee wellness should
provide information and support on the benefits, risks, and costs of
the most popular practices. At a minimum, companies should provide
information, research and wellness programs. Some health plans are
already subsidizing wellness and CAM therapies for selected
Finally, the growth
of health and productivity management provides opportunities for
practitioners to work with companies in the management of such
health conditions as musculoskeletal pain, arthritis,
gastrointestinal problems, asthma, and diabetes, migraine, and