Risk management chartAt first glance, the term “risk management” might seem like it should only be of concern to one group of people: risk managers. But with an ever more interconnected supply chain and globalized workforce, realized risks can have both direct and indirect effects that radiate across business operations in surprising ways. Perhaps that’s why an increasing number of executives at small, medium and large organizations alike have some sort of risk management strategy in place — as many as 80% according to a 2011 RIMS Benchmark Survey of Risk Managers.

So just what is risk management, and why does it matter on both an institutional and individual level? By its strictest definition, risk management is the identification, assessment and avoidance or mitigation of organizational risks, such as economic uncertainty, supply chain disruption, loss of available workforce talent, and injury to workers, to name just a few.

While much of risk management is focused on big organizational risks, the importance of protecting and nurturing employees can’t be overemphasized. After all, human capital is at the heart of every business, and employees that are well looked after in mind, body and spirit are more efficient, productive, likely to think innovatively, and likely to stick around. As part of our focus this month on risk management, let’s take a look at a few surprisingly effective ways to avoid and mitigate employee risk.

1. Ergonomic Offices

If you think that an ergonomic keyboard, mouse and chair are “nice to haves” rather than “essentials” for employee workspaces, think again. Ergonomic workspaces have a direct effect on the company bottom line, especially when it comes to risk management. Workers compensation claims for Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs) like carpal tunnel syndrome can seriously dip into the company coffers, not to mention all of those sick days taken for RSI-related surgeries and pain. Companies who do little to help prevent workplace injuries will inevitably invite the wrath of OSHA, and will also suffer from lowered productivity and efficiency rates as well as a brain drain as employees flee to employers who do take these measures. Investing in completely ergonomic workspaces dramatically reduces all of these risks, paying off quite quickly after the purchase of equipment has been made and the accompanying training executed.

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2. Cafeteria Foodvegetables, grains and fruits

Obesity and chronic disease are a big problem in the U.S., with over 1 million 45 to 62 year olds diagnosed with diabetes in 2010 alone. Just like RSIs, these diseases can greatly decrease employee productivity rates while increasing absenteeism, and they can also push up health insurance premiums — all problems easily fixed simply by providing employees with healthy eating options in the company cafeteria. This doesn’t have to mean removing employee autonomy; instead, survey employees before implementing a new nutritional program to gain a sense of their preferences. Alternatively, if your company is too small to cater directly, a voucher program to local health food restaurants can also prove effective. Over the long term, food programs will increase employee health, promote better performance and increase longevity at the company.

3. Health and Wellness Programs

For similar reasons, health and wellness programs can also be highly effective. Free or reduced gym memberships, when paired with competitions, prizes and workout buddies, are a great way to encourage a fit culture. Massages will also help reduce stress and relieve tension, whether provided in-house or externally, on monthly basis or just during intense periods.

For the highest risk employees, more in-depth lifestyle management and disease management programs can also be well worth the investment. These begin with in-depth questionnaires about the employee’s lifestyle, and continue with a wide range of interventions, from Weight Watchers meetings to sessions with health coaches and fitness trainers to educational and smoking cessation programs.

4. Mental Health Services

It’s easy to see the effects of physical ailments on employee productivity and absenteeism rates. An employee’s mental health, however, can be a little bit more difficult to gauge. That’s a big deal, as mental health can have just as much if not more of a powerful effect on both measures. Mental health risk avoidance begins with creating a healthy company culture, where employees feel respected and nurtured — an end to which all of these previously articulated measures are means. It’s also important to provide preventative mental health care, especially for employees with clear diagnoses. Prevention can come in the form of health insurance plans that include mental health, as well as regular counseling visits for all employees and increased access to care during high stress periods.

The Takeaway

Managing risk across an organization can be complex, but doing so has clear benefits for all companies, not to mention the individuals they employee. Taking the time to evaluate your needs, execute well thought out strategies and analyze the results will have great payoffs over both the short and long term. Where will you begin?