Wellness Programs: Improve Workforce Health, Reduce Health Care Costs

Take a look at your workforce – what do you notice?

Are your workers participating in activities outside of the office? Does your office have a running club or a softball team? More importantly, as your employees look to be healthy outside of work, is your office doing what it can to promote a healthy environment while at work?

Though some businesses may be straying from wellness programs in order to control finances, the indirect costs of poor health (e.g., absence at work) can be two or three times the direct medical expenses for companies. Not to mention, for many companies, medical expenditures already consume 50 percent or more of corporate profits and chronic diseases account for many health care issues and costs.

Combining the two expenses and the amount of money lost due to unhealthy employees, can your office afford not to participate in wellness programs?

With some experts predicting that the U.S. health care system will successfully transition from fixing people who are sick to preventive diagnostic medicine in the next 10 years, this is a great opportunity for small businesses to promote a healthy lifestyle. Not only will implementing a wellness program promote a healthy work environment, but it can also result in a return on investment (ROI).

As more companies invest in wellness programs, evidence continues to point to their effectiveness. In fact, a large-scale review of 42 published studies of worksite health promotions programs showed an average of 28 percent reduction in sick days and an average of 26 percent reduction in overall health costs. With 61 percent of workers whose employers offer wellness programs participating in them, according to the 2013 Aflac WorkForces Report (AWR).

Small business owners should consider what the reduction in health costs could be with 100 percent employee participation. For instance, 70 percent of health costs among working adults are incurred due to behavioral habits such as smoking, diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Yet only 35 percent of employers are offering wellness programs to combat those tendencies according to the AWR.

How to Implement Effective Employee Wellness Programs

Make Sure the Program is Comprehensive

Make sure it encompasses key areas of employees’ everyday lifestyles. It’s important to focus on a healthy workplace and community, healthy eating habits and stress management.

For example, create an office team for a local kickball or softball league, organize after-work office fun runs or invite local massage therapy students to the office for quick, stress-reducing chair massages.

Engage Employees

Emphasize results rather than participation. For instance, instead of giving traditional incentives, such as payment for gym memberships, require employees to pass biometric screenings to receive discounts on health insurance premiums and other perks.

A recent Gallup study found that engaged employees are 21 percent more likely than actively disengaged employees to be involved in wellness programs offered by their company. Create an interactive, engaging wellness experience though social media tools to form teams and/or inspire them to lose weight, exercise more and, ultimately, become a healthier and happier workforce.

For example, create a Facebook group for workers so they can post schedules of different exercise events, healthy recipes, success stories and team progress. Add more incentive by offering the winning team the prize of an extra half or full day off of their choice.

Promote Healthy Eating

Bring in nutritionists to speak to employees during lunch, organize after-work healthy cooking classes for the office or communicate healthy lifestyle tips. Also, encourage healthy snacking by placing fruit bowls around the office or stocking the office refrigerator with yogurt and vegetables.

Market the Wellness Program to Employees

Instead of sporadically mentioning the availability of a wellness program, actively promote a culture of well-being and health through outlets and venues that are most popular to them. Post flyers on bulletin boards or send out weekly/monthly emails with wellness tips and exercise events.

Promote Financial Health

Don’t stop at physical health. Encourage employees to become savvy savers, spenders and investors. Help them to truly understand all of the options available so they make educated decisions based on their lifestyle. More knowledge about living a financially savvy lifestyle will reduce stress-levels, allowing personnel to concentrate more on their work rather than fret about monetary concerns.

At the end of the day, the success of any wellness program is measured entirely on the level of employee participation. By offering comprehensive wellness programs that entail physical, mental and financial health, small businesses can create an environment that provides not only a happier and healthier workforce, but also a nice ROI.

Employee Health Photo via Shutterstock


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