Employee Wellness Programs may sound like a trend that is likely to pass, but they offer both employees and employers very real benefits. For the employee, they can reduce the likelihood of things like heart problems, obesity, and diabetes through regular exercise, dietary advice, and medical care. They can also improve employees overall physical, psychological and mental health. The company benefits from reduced health care costs, improved productivity, and higher employee retention rates. In addition to the humanitarian values of the wellness programs, the ratio of money spent on wellness programs to money saved by the company on lost productivity and health care make employee wellness programs a financial benefit to the companies who have implemented them.
Here is a breakdown of how workplace wellness programs benefit companies and the hallmarks of a successful program.
- Savings on Health Care
In one study, 57 percent of participants were able to move from high-risk health problems to low-risk status by completing six months in an employer-sponsored wellness program. The program included cardiac rehabilitation and exercise training. Other employers have offered meditation classes, an on-site gym, access to smoking cessation classes, healthier cafeteria offerings, and even an on-site clinic. One company touted a $1.41 return in health plan savings for every dollar spent. But when you also factor in things like lost productivity when employees are absent, unproductive employees, workers who they move on, and new employees that have to be trained, the return can be as high as $13 for every dollar spent.
One problem employers face is loss of productivity. When an employee must take time off of work to visit the doctor, the employer suffers. A wellness program can help to boost employees’ overall health. Thus an employee requires fewer visits to the doctor. Some employers have even brought in on-site clinics where employees can visit a primary care physician. This means they can schedule appointments around their work schedule and spend less time going to see a doctor. Nearly three-quarters of employees at one company chose the on-site health services for their primary care which suggests that “if you build it, they will come.” After implementing an on-site medical unit, one employer saw an 80 percent decline in lost work days and a 64 percent decline in days when duties were modified to accommodate an injury or illness.
- Employee Retention
One unexpected benefit of employer-sponsored wellness programs is improved employee retention. One study by the National Business Group on Health (USA) showed that companies that instituted an effective wellness program saw a dramatic decline in turnover. As one manager put it, “Employees who participate in our wellness program do not leave.” Indeed, one company noted in exit interviews that departing employees listed the company’s wellness program as the number one response to the question of what they would miss most after departing.
Hallmarks of a Successful Wellness Program
Employees tend to be distrustful of corporate wellness initiatives initially, but if a company can encourage employees to join, it can pay off in big dividends for employees and employers alike. Here are some ways companies have made their programs successful.
Set An Example
Employees may be hesitant to join a wellness event during the working day, or they may distrust on-site services. If they see those with higher status in the company, such as a manager or especially a CEO, they are more likely to give it a try. Encouraging higher-level employees to be the first to get involved in wellness programs and letting them set an example will make employees a little more willing to join.
Have a Leader
This could be a volunteer to head up and organize wellness events, or it could be trained professionals who are hired to run the wellness program. What is important is that there is someone who is specialized to oversee and manage wellness programs.
Don’t Force Participation
Many employers have found that it is more effective to offer incentives rather than ultimatums when it comes to wellness program participation. For example, some employers offer bonuses for things like losing weight or quitting smoking. Many offer a health insurance reduction for participating in programs.
Don’t Rush Things
For policies that will be mandated company-wide such as a ban on smoking, make the change gradually, giving employees a chance to acclimate before making the change completely.
Make It Convenient
The most successful wellness programs are successful because they are convenient. An on-site gym is more likely to be used if it is open before and after work, at lunch hour, and on weekends. Similarly, having a clinic on campus and making appointment setting easy will encourage employees to make use of it.
Make sure that They Understand That Their Information Is Confidential
Many employees initially distrust company intentions when they offer a wellness program. If they understand that their information will not be used in any way to affect their employment status or company ranking and that company officials will never see their private health information, then they are likely to have more confidence in the program.
Certainly, no company must offer everything listed here in their own wellness program, especially if they are a small business. But if they make an effort to address their own work force’s most pressing health needs, employers could see a significant return on their investment.
Dr Sajed Al-Abdali is an Occupational Medicine Consultant and a Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist
By Sajed Al Abdali M.D., MSC, FRSPH