on the Home Front:
The Business Case for Targeting
Family Health and Well-Being
Health promotion programs have traditionally focused on
encouraging healthy choices and reducing risk factors
among employees — but a growing body of evidence
points to the strong influence of family lifestyle behaviors on
employee health, indicating a new approach to cultivating a
productive, thriving workforce.
Inviting family members to participate in wellness
initiatives makes behavior change easier and more
sustainable for employees.
To be effective in stabilizing healthcare costs, wellness
initiatives in the 21st century must consider, include, and
target the people who can make or break employee well-
being — their families.
A focus on family health and well-being infuses workplace
wellness strategies with a powerful element of social support
for employees. It also addresses the health of a substantial
healthcare cost-driver: dependents. And their health risks/
habits affect the bottom line even if they’re not covered under
the employer’s benefits — through absenteeism and lowered
productivity. With better family health and a more positive
home life, workers can turn their on-the-clock attention and
energy back to their jobs.
Why Family Wellness Matters
Encouraging family health and well-being with wellness and
work-life initiatives makes good business sense:
• Each dependent costs employers $1780/year on average
— and employer healthcare costs are increasing at a
median annual rate of 6%.2
• According to the National Business Group on Health,
approximately 33% of large employers’ employee
beneficiaries are dependents under age 25.3
• Children and teens account for 14.7% of typical healthcare
costs for a large employer—not including the productivity
loss for working parents of sick and injured children.4
• 24 million working adults care for family members over age
50, spending an average of 19 hours/week in their care-
• A 2010 study reports employees who care for elderly
family members incur an average of 8% more in healthcare
costs than non-caregivers — with an estimated $17.1
billion-$33.6 billion lost annually to caregiving-related
interruptions, absenteeism, worker replacement, and
moving from full-time to part-time work.6
• Employees with jobs that positively affect their energy
levels at home — and vice versa — are more likely to
be engaged, feel satisfied, and plan to remain with their
• A study of 8000 corporate leaders finds they value a
supportive work environment, a challenging job and a good
fit between work life and home life more than being well
The Business Case for Targeting Family Health and Well-Being
Promoting Wellness on the Home Front:
Productivity losses related to personal and family
health problems cost US employers $1685/employee/
year — or $225.8 billion annually.1
Work Life and Family Life —
Managing work, life, and family is an everyday struggle for
countless employees — in fact, 70% of US children live
in households where both parents are employed.9
family members, aging parents, financial and legal matters,
relationship and parenting issues are just a few examples of
personal concerns that demand workers’ time and energy on
and off the job.
For many people, work plus life adds up to anxiety — and
plenty of it.
High stress levels take a huge toll on physical, mental, and
emotional well-being. But employees aren’t the only ones
who suffer; stress affects families and even the workplace
climate. In one study, 47% of adults reported being awake
at night due to stress10
— a factor clearly detrimental to job
performance. And work-related stress is often carried home,
resulting in poor health and relationship problems.
Some people cope with stress in positive ways, such as
exercising, socializing, or seeking professional help — but
many turn to overeating or unhealthy foods. Others choose
TV over more active leisure-time pursuits. A recent study
showed that US adults watch over 5 hours/day on average,11
with kids 8-18 years watching 4 hours/day plus another 2
playing video games.12
It’s not surprising that only 49% of
boys and 35% of girls ages 6-11 get 60 minutes of moderate
to vigorous physical activity a day — and this age group has
experienced the sharpest increase in obesity rates.13
The work environment plays a key role in how employees
manage stress. Doughnuts in the break room and desktop
candy bowls don’t help; instead they promote mindless
junk-food grazing… a habit that easily carries over into
Because work and life are so tightly connected, both
stand to benefit from employer-sponsored health
promotion measures aimed at the whole family.
Helping employees and their families
shift from being stressed out and sedentary
to thriving is a golden opportunity for
employers. For example:
• Flexible scheduling allows some families
to spend more time together, participate in
important events, and be more physically
active while the employee still gets the
work done. But rigid scheduling and job
environments that promote long hours often
mean missing out on family activities or
special occasions — and choosing fast
food over more nutritious meals.
• Offering fun, engaging wellness campaigns
that get families involved together can help
both employees and dependents make
lasting changes that decrease long-term
health risks and improve the bottom line.
An estimated 1 million workers are absent each
day due to stress, at a corporate price tag of
Promoting Wellness on the Home Front | 2
Research shows that close relationships have a strong
influence on health behaviors. If family members have
unhealthy patterns, the likelihood of employees making
lasting changes is low. But the potent influence pays off
when healthy habits at home support employee efforts
Exercise/nutrition. Support from family, friends, and
coworkers can increase exercise participation and reduce
fat consumption — with the biggest improvements attributed
to family support.15
Weight management. When a husband becomes obese,
his wife is 44% more likely to become obese. Similarly, the
husband is 37% more likely to become obese when his wife
Receiving support from family and friends helps
participants lower body mass index.17
Maintaining health changes. An 8-week program including
family support helped study participants begin healthy
behaviors and continue them at a 1-year follow-up. During
the 1-year maintenance period, participants reported
encouragement and participation of family members as
the most important factor.18
Diabetes control. Support from family and friends
boosts compliance with regular blood glucose testing
an essential practice for maintaining
good control over diabetes and preventing complications.
Protecting teen health. Close, strong families decrease the
risk of adolescents becoming victims of violence.20
connectedness also reduces emotional issues, incidence of
eating disorders, and suicide21
while increasing adolescents’
well-being and decreasing distress.22
Dental health. When parents brush their own teeth at
irregular intervals, their children are more prone to cavities
— as early as 18 months of age. Using consistent parenting
practices, being a positive role model, and teaching healthy
lifestyle choices early are factors associated with fewer
cavities at age 7.23
Self-control. Findings from a University of Georgia study
indicate self-control is contagious — for better or worse.
Subjects demonstrated more self-control when others around
them did and when simply thinking about people who exhibit
strong self-control. But when others nearby showed less
self-control, so did study subjects.24, 25
Family Routines and Rituals
Relationship difficulties are widely prevalent, with one study
showing 59% of calls to an employee assistance program
were due to marital or other
with consistent ways of
relating and routine ways
of doing things build an
environment conducive to
emotional, physical, and
can promote a positive home
life by offering a healthy work
environment, with programs and services that help families
strengthen connections and develop nourishing relationships.
Eating meals together is an age-old family custom that has
fallen victim to busy after-school schedules and long work
hours. Encouraging employees to consistently leave work on
time to share a meal with their families is a simple strategy to
promote family health and well-being:
Help children develop sensible eating habits. At 9 to 14
years, children have less fried food and soda when they eat
more meals with their family.28
Adolescents who eat with their
parents choose more fruits, vegetables, and dairy foods;
they’re also more likely to eat breakfast. Eating habits keep
improving when additional meals are eaten as a family.29
Higher frequency of family dinners increases the likelihood
of eating at least 5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables
And healthier foods — whole grains, fruits, nuts,
seeds, green leafy vegetables, low-fat dairy — are associated
with a 15% lower diabetes risk.30
Develop positive behaviors. Couples who coordinate
efforts, affirm each other’s positions, and work together to
create a family story — around the table and in daily life —
have more positive emotional interactions, resulting in better
child and teen behavior.31
Improve family relationships and coping skills. The more
frequently families eat meals together, the greater the family
unity — and better coping skills in children.32
Increase test scores. Children who spend more time eating
meals with their families score higher on tests.33
Maintain weight loss. Over a 5-year period, children in a diet
program with a parent lose more weight and maintain weight
loss better than children alone. Factors include number of
meals eaten at home and encouragement from the family.34
An Integrated Approach
Workplace policies establish the framework for employer
initiatives to improve family well-being — but they need
strength to make things happen. Management support is
a key element for the success of any business objective;
employee and dependent wellness should be no exception.
Drive home the expectation by involving all levels of
leadership in implementing wellness campaigns and
building compliance into performance evaluations.
Employers must not assume that employees are the
only ones overseeing family health needs, meals,
and opportunities for physical activity. While a
worker may ignore or delete an email from HR,
someone at home could be more apt to
respond to health and wellness offerings.
Therefore, a comprehensive health promotion
• Includes the spouse or domestic partner
in emails as well as telephone and
direct mail messages.
• Partners with health benefit vendors
(nurse advice lines, tobacco
quit-lines, employee assistance
programs, etc.) to coordinate
messages and materials for
Visible support by organization leaders may promote
weight control. In a study of healthcare workers,
greater perception of corporate commitment to
employee health was associated with lower body
Wellness and Work/Life Initiatives
to Promote Family Well-Being
Promoting employee and dependent health involves several
steps. Over time, develop a comprehensive approach to meet
your population’s unique needs by implementing a strategic
combination of benefits, resources, and programs.
1. Engaging, team-based wellness campaigns that
encourage family involvement in physical activity, good
nutrition, and relationship-building
2. A culture of physical activity with walking meetings,
accessible stairwells, protected break times, low or
no-cost pedometers, onsite walking groups
3. Nutrition support with guidelines for food and beverages
at meetings; healthy choices in vending machines; onsite
farm produce delivery for subscribers; healthy take-home
4. Active transportation – encouraging bicycle and on-foot
commuting with onsite showers and secure bicycle storage
5. Parenting support with coaching (online or phone), web
seminars, referral to childcare resources, and childcare
6. Pregnancy support with phone access to nurse case
managers from pre-pregnancy through postpartum
7. Lactation support with onsite facilities, refrigerators for
storage, discounts on hospital-grade breast pumps,
and phone access to certified professionals
8. Eldercare resources with adult care referral, case
management, and caregiver support
9. Tobacco cessation benefits; tobacco-free workplace
10. Flexible scheduling, part-time schedules, job-shares,
telecommuting, and phased retirement
11. Adoption assistance — partial reimbursement of fees;
pre- and post-adoption counseling
12. Concierge services with custom searches for household
repair, summer camps, event tickets and other needs to
save employees time
13. Paid time off — workplace norm that encourages employees
to use vacation time and to stay home when sick
14. Employee Assistance Program for confidential relationship,
mental health, financial, and legal assistance
15. Clear, enforced expectations for manager support of
• Family support is a critical element for long-term adoption
of healthy behaviors.
• Dependent well-being affects organizations financially
through healthcare costs, absenteeism, and productivity.
• Employers can have a positive influence on employee
and family well-being with health promotion and work-life
strategies and programs that target the whole family.
Attributes of Successful Strategies
Some of the most effective features to look for in wellness campaigns
are listed below:
• Tools and evidence-based content that inspire employees to take
action toward better family health and equip them to guide loved ones
to healthier choices
• Focus on strengthening relationships, improving communication, and
promoting physical activity, nutrition, and stress reduction
• Captivating design to engage a wide age range
• Interactive tracking that makes behavior change simpler — and fun
• Customizable features for integrating with your total rewards program
• Web-based to streamline participation across multiple worksites
• Easy to implement and manage with minimal staff time.
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