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Smokers hurt bottom lines with lower productivity, high insurance costs

There are endless reports about the health hazards of smoking, but a new study by The Ohio State University points out that it could also be harmful to companies' bottom lines.

There are endless reports about the health hazards of smoking, but a new study by The Ohio State University points out that it could also be harmful to companies' bottom lines.

The research explored the costs of employees who smoke and found that the habit can be expensive for organizations. Not only are insurance and healthcare expenses higher, but regular smoke breaks can diminish worker productivity. The study estimated that staff members who take two, 15- minute smoke breaks a day cost their firms $3,077 a year, NBC News reported.

This figure could be pushed even higher when other factors are included. In addition to smoke breaks, the study examined the number of sick days and other absences required by smokers. On average, smokers could cost their firms almost $6,000 more per year than non-smokers when all factors are totaled.

"Though all employees are occasionally unproductive in one way or another, research suggests that smoking status negatively impacts productivity separately and apart from lost work time due to smoking breaks and absenteeism," the report states.

Because of the costs associated with smoking and other unhealthy activities, more businesses are launching wellness programs. These initiatives use incentives to encourage workers to adopt healthier lifestyles with the goal of reducing healthcare costs. The Ohio State University study notes that annual healthcare costs for smokers may be more than $2,000 higher than the average worker. 

Support wellness programs with incentive programs
Employee reward programs can be an essential tool for cutting health related expenses. Laurie Whitsel, policy research director for the American Heart Association, told NBC News that public support was necessary for those trying to quit.

"Studies show as smokers have more opportunity to quit, and more resources to quit, they are more successful," Whitsel said. "Most smokers take six to nine times to be able to quit a tobacco habit. It is incredibly addictive."

By showing support for their staff members and rewarding efforts to stop smoking, lose weight and other health-related objectives, businesses can help employees meet personal goals. This provides benefits for both organizations and employees. Previous studies have shown that for every $1 spent on wellness programs, companies see a return of $4 in reduced insurance costs and increased productivity.

Incentive programs give businesses the tools needed to provide additional support and motivation for workers struggling to quit smoking. Recognizing the successes of individuals gives encouragement for others and shows that organizations are committed to helping employees improve their health.

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