Employee Wellness Programs: Are They Effective?

Statistics show that having a highly effective health and wellness program will save your company money by reducing illness and absenteeism among employees. According to a study by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health, these programs also increase loyalty to your company. The study says that organizations with highly effective wellness programs report significantly lower voluntary attrition than do those whose programs have low effectiveness (9% vs. 15%).

According to the Harvard Business Review, strategically integrated wellness programs have six strong pillars that simultaneously support their success, regardless of the size of the organization.

  1. Leadership for the program should come from all levels of the organization
  2. The program should be in alignment with the organization’s overall identity
  3. The program should be comprehensive in scope, relevant and engaging to employees and of high quality
  4. It must be accessible to all employees, so low or no cost participation should be a priority
  5. Partnerships internally as well as with vendors should be active with ongoing collaboration
  6. All messaging about the program should be delivered with sensitivity, creativity, and so that the message is understood by a diverse community

So, based on the available data, yes, employee wellness programs are worth the cost when they are quality programs for which the benefits and processes are communicated effectively to all employees.

More than 81% of today’s American businesses with 50 or more employees have some form of health promotion program. The most popular programs focus on exercise, smoking cessation, back care, and stress management. Generally, employers offer wellness programs because the combined benefit to the employees and the company is worth the cost of the program.

Reasons a workplace health focus is important:

  • Many of today’s jobs are sedentary offering little to no opportunity for regular exercise or movement on the job.
  • Our country is suffering an obesity epidemic and obesity leads to other chronic health conditions.
  • Despite the health information available, tobacco use continues to be popular.
  • Stress is an epidemic that can lead to high-risk behaviors, including excessive alcohol consumption and drug use.

While these reasons in and of themselves are enough to warrant an employee health program, the bottom line reason that most employers offer them is to increase regular attendance at work. If you could figure out a way to minimize absenteeism while helping your workforce become healthier, would you do it? Improving the health knowledge, health behaviors and underlying health conditions of your staff is the target goal of a health and wellness program.

In addition to the internal health of your company, having a quality employee health and wellness program shows the outside world, including prospective employees, that you value your employees.

A wellness program can take on many forms. Some popular options include:

  • Monthly or quarterly stipends for employees to apply to their activity of choice (make sure you are clear about the process and about what activities are accepted)
  • Paying employee health club membership dues or offering some activity (such as yoga) on site
  • Offer education seminars such as (healthy) cooking classes, financial guidance, handling family issues, etc
  • Host an annual Health Fair to introduce employees to a variety of health options including alternative health care if that is in line with your company culture
  • If you offer snacks in the break room make sure they are healthy
  • Offer weekly or monthly delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables to the workplace

Companies who have wellness programs often see a reduction in employee doctor’s visits which can reduce insurance premiums over time. This is an added benefit for the employees when companies choose to pass that savings on, thereby lowering the employees’ share of their healthcare costs.

As with any employee program, it is most successful when it responds to the needs of the employee population. Surveying your staff to find out what’s important to them is a great way to kick off a new health and wellness program. Find out what they value and will use to optimize the money spent on the program and get the desired results.

Does your company offer a Health and Wellness Program? What benefits have you seen for your company? Can you offer any recommendations for others?

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