It’s no secret that health care costs are rising in the United States for both individuals and employers. Many companies are looking for creative solutions to the problem. One approach? Corporate wellness programs designed to lower health care costs by improving the overall health of employees with an eye toward disease prevention.
Though these kinds of programs are nothing new, today’s initiatives are evolving to consider total wellness, with an emphasis on physical, mental, and even financial health. The programs are designed to improve overall wellbeing and increase employee retention and productivity.
In other words? Employers are thinking big when it comes to health, and it’s paying off.
The rise of wellness in the workplace
“Wellness” is a pretty broad term, but for the purposes of a business trying to lower its insurance premiums, the concept refers directly to promoting the kinds of daily habits that reduce instances of costly chronic health conditions amongst staff members, such as heart disease and diabetes. These health conditions are endemic—86 million adult Americans have prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 34.6% of American adults are obese, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.
From promoting better nutrition and regular exercise to reducing stress, companies are finding that encouraging employees to take an active role in their own health—and supporting them in doing so—can be very good for the bottom line. Current trends in employee wellness programs include a focus on mindfulness and an increase in flexible work schedules to reduce stress.
This means that in addition to offering training sessions with a registered dietician or promoting participation in a company-wide 5K race, for example, newer wellness programs might integrate stress management training, sleep tips, financial health advice, work/life balance discussions, and events to foster social and community connections.
Keys to a successful wellness program
A successful employee wellness program is not just about posting calorie counts on the vending machine, or handing out Fitbits. According to reporting by the Harvard Business Review, a successful program must have multi-level leadership starting in the C-suite to encourage participation. It must be aligned with the company’s mission and priorities, and executed with planning and patience.
An effective wellness program should also be flexible enough to allow for individualization and fun. Finally, the best programs involve partnerships with other community organizations, such as the YMCA, and strong, consistent communication throughout the entire company. Employees need to know that wellness programs aren’t just a throwaway whim on the part of a leadership committee, but a real benefit that isn’t going away.
The benefits of healthier employees
The numbers are striking when it comes to the efficacy of corporate wellness programs. Medical costs decrease approximately $3.27 for each dollar a business spends on these types of initiatives, according to the 2013 Aflac Workforces Report. Further, the Institute for Healthcare Consumerism found companies that implemented a wellness program experienced a 28% reduction in employees calling in sick.
Not only are healthier employees less likely to miss work, they’re also less likely to quit. Employees enrolled in wellness programs at the place of their employment are more satisfied with their jobs. Because turnover is so costly, this is an important side benefit of wellness programs that shouldn’t be discounted.
Wellness programs should emphasize both physical and mental health. The APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award recognizes businesses that value employee well-being. The four employers who received the award recently had an average turnover rate of 6%, according to statistics from the APA, significantly lower the national average of 38% as estimated by the U.S. Department of Labor.
An ounce of prevention isn’t just worth a pound of cure—it’s worth a pound of recruitment and training costs as well. If your business hasn’t yet started an employee wellness program, now is the time.
By Laura Schaefer