Should Managers Encourage Healthy Lifestyles?

Should Managers Encourage Healthy Lifestyles?It's a manager's responsibility to get the maximum productivity out of her team while ensuring her employees are happy at work. But what about healthy? Chronic disease and absenteeism due to illness certainly cost a company through both lost productivity and direct healthcare costs. Plus encouraging employees health might be good for your company's image and help retain talent. But where does encouragement of a healthy lifestyle become meddling and overbearing?

Gill Corkindale, writing yesterday in the Harvard Business Review Letter from London blog, reflects on a new research paper out from PriceWaterhouseCoopers entitled "Working Towards Wellness."

It suggests that the workplace is the ideal place to monitor and improve health and even posits that some companies are better placed than governments to manage health. PWC interviewed senior managers in 26 global companies, including Nestle, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Telstra and Wipro, on the impact of chronic disease on their businesses. Having examined best practice in developing and maintaining wellness programs, the report concluded that, given adequate support, "employers can enhance the productivity of the workforce, reduce the growing burden of healthcare costs, make the workplace more attractive and build a better and more healthy global community."
Corkindale expresses some skepticism about the conclusions, however, and worries that some measures might invade employees' privacy. She asks:
How would you feel if your health became part of your annual appraisal at work? What if your fitness level determined your career opportunities? Would you be happy working for a company which actively monitored your health? Or where your senior managers made a point of showing their health credentials, eschewing long lunches and company dinners in favour of long runs and company work-outs?
She also points out that "business is responsible for creating some of the conditions that give rise to poor health: long working hours, increased stress, more business travel and the sedentary nature of work are all contributing factors." And wonders if companies would not get improved health results if they encouraged a better work-life balance rather than just offering gym memberships or apples in the canteen.

With research out this week from the Trust for America's Health finding that obesity rates rose in 31 states last year, promising increased costs due to diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions linked to obesity, how much responsibility do managers have to encourage their workers to adopt healthy lifestyles? Any thoughts, BNET readers?

(Image of man working out by Abdullah AL-Nasser (Abraaj), CC 2.0)