by Positive Adventures Wed Dec 5 2018

Nearly 75% of U.S. employers now offer corporate wellness programs for their employees. These programs offer resources and inspiration to help employees improve overall well-being.

They’re much more than simple health initiatives or weight loss competitions; effective wellness programs foster spiritual, mental, physical, occupational, and emotional health. In addition to providing added value for your employees, these programs can reduce healthcare costs, improve productivity, and foster a happier workplace.

Wellness programs can be beneficial to both employers and employees, but it’s important to know how to implement the right program for your company. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered with everything you need to know.

Why Corporate Wellness Programs?

Rising Healthcare Costs

Americans are in terrible shape, and the cost of healthcare is through the roof. Only about 30% of the workforce is getting the recommended amount of physical activity each day and preventable chronic diseases are responsible for over 75% of healthcare spending.

Employers are looking for ways to mitigate the ballooning cost of healthcare, and many are finding a solution with wellness programs. By proactively encouraging healthy habits and increasing awareness and access to preventative care, many businesses are seeing dramatic savings in healthcare costs.

Johnson & Johnson is an excellent case study in the effectiveness of these programs. From 2002 to 2008, the company’s return was $2.71 for every dollar spent. They estimate that wellness programs have saved them over $250 million in healthcare costs over the course of a decade, a number that should not go unnoticed.

unhealthy benjamin franklin

This is largely due to gradual changes in lifestyle habits that lead to chronic disease. By helping employees to quit smoking, increase activity, and reduce stress and anxiety, medical costs decline drastically. Studies have shown that these programs can reduce employee’s risk of disease and save the company money in the long run.

From 2001 to 2007, MD Anderson Cancer Center saw an 80% reduction in lost work days and saw their workers’ compensation insurance premiums drop by 50%. Wellness programs aren’t just a nice idea – they’re a smart investment.

Employee Productivity and Retention

Wellness programs also increase employee happiness and job satisfaction. We’ve written about this before, but the bottom line is that happy employees stay longer and work better. Employee turnover is expensive, and productivity often comes at a premium. Here again, we find that a successful wellness program may be the answer.

Turnover costs employers over $11 billion each year. And employee turnover is trending up, with millennials changing jobs more often than any other generation. Finding ways to retain employees is important. Finding ways to retain productive employees is even more important.

Top performers are about four times more productive than the average employee. They are also cornerstones of company morale. Low morale and disengagement costs U.S. businesses as much as $550 billion each year in lost productivity. Keeping employees happy is serious business.

Fortunately, wellness programs don’t just help you keep your employees, they can help improve productivity as well. These results come from more than simple fitness challenges. Resources like yoga and meditation, counseling, and other mental and spiritual health assets will help your employees become more productive, improve morale, and drastically reduce turnover.

Enhanced Corporate Image

Providing employee wellness programs also helps enhance your corporate image. This can lead to better partnerships and endorsements, more revenue, and a deeper recruitment pool.

While business is largely dollars and cents, most people want to do business with companies and people that they feel good about. Companies with a good reputation will attract more investors, more job applicants, and more customers.

This increase brings with it higher quality partners. Believe it or not, employees care about more than just the number on their paychecks. Working for companies with a good image and positive, interactive culture is increasingly important, especially to the youngest generation of workers. By investing in the well-being of your team, you can attract, improve, and retain the best of the best.

Why Some Corporate Wellness Programs Fail

Employees Aren’t Aware

One reason that corporate wellness programs fail is a lack of exposure. One study found that although 85% of U.S. employers with more than 1,000 employees offered wellness programs, only 60% of their employees knew about them. It can help to have designated employees to help promote these programs. And that starts at the top.

Lack of Senior Leadership

Another hindrance to the success of these programs is a lack of senior employee participation. Company culture starts at the top, and if the leadership isn’t participating in these programs, odds are the rest of the team won’t either. The more publicly invested your senior leadership is, the more engagement you’ll see. The more engagement, the more successful your corporate wellness program will be.

Expectation of Immediate ROI

Speaking of leadership, those at the helm of the company ship have another important role to play: patience. One of the reasons wellness programs fail is a lack of patience by the leadership. These programs are not like day trading; they’re like farming. Although the investment value of these programs has been shown time and time again, many companies give up on the program because they aren’t seeing a fast-enough return on investment (ROI). These are the day traders, looking for a quick turn-around on their investment.

young sprout growing

The farmers, on the other hand, know that growth takes time. You can’t simply plant a seed and expect to see a bounty the next day. You need to water and prune it until it’s ready for harvest. Wellness programs work, but they take time. Remember that you’re not going to see healthcare costs drop in a single quarter, or even a year. But with time, your ROI in your employees’ well-being will be worth the wait.

Lack of Employee Input

Another major reason why wellness programs fail is a lack of input from the employees. There is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” program. Once you have the company’s goals for the program established, you need to communicate with your team to find out what their needs are.

This helps your staff feel a sense of ownership in the program, which leads to higher participation and greater success. Consider starting off with a committee of peers that can share ideas and provide valuable insight as you develop your program.

Narrow Focus

One thing you’ll likely discover is that your employees want (and need) more than just physical activities and resources. There’s a big difference between a health initiative and a wellness program and confusing the two is a major reason that corporate efforts fail. A comprehensive wellness program should include spiritual, emotional, social, and mental health resources.

If your program is all about activities, you’re likely to alienate a segment of your team. Have you heard of the Pareto principle? It states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the cause. And this is generally true in employee healthcare; about 80% of your healthcare costs will come from about 20% of your employees.

The truth is that the employees most likely to engage in physical activities and challenges are probably the employees who require the least improvement to see a healthy ROI. And while group challenges, activities, and events can (and should) be a part of your programming, it’s important to provide other resources as well. Consider including seminars, counseling, meditation, or webinars as additional options.

Lack of Accessibility

Additionally, it’s important to make programs accessible to employees. This will often mean providing resources that are on-site and online. Participation is the key to a successful employee wellness program, and your staff are far less likely to participate if they need to travel or take time out of their personal lives.

Most employees already feel that they spend too much time at the office. Traveling for seminars or attending events after work encroaches on personal time and will result in low participation rates. The good news is that effective wellness initiatives generally result in improved health behaviors that extend beyond the workplace.

Behavior is at the center of any wellness program, because bad behaviors lead to chronic disease, and chronic disease leads to inflated healthcare costs. An employee isn’t likely to travel after work to attend a company-sponsored yoga class, but after taking a few free classes during lunch at the office, that same employee may join a studio near their home. You may not convince many people to travel to a seminar about healthy eating but offering healthy food or cooking classes at the office may result in improved eating habits at home.

corporate wellness, group of people doing yoga

Lack of Incentives

And that’s what these programs are really about: affecting change that carries over into the daily lives of your team. And the greatest way to encourage participation is with positive reinforcement. When it comes to wellness programs, remember: more carrot, less stick.

Creating incentives for participation is by far the best way to bolster participation in your programs. These incentives could include cash, public recognition, or even reduced health insurance premiums. In fact, most insurance providers will offer discounts for participation in various activities and assessments.

Corporate Wellness and Company Culture

At the end of the day, your employee wellness program should reflect your company culture. Be sure to communicate with your team before deciding which programs are best for your company or organization. More importantly, listen to what they have to say. The success of your programming hinges on the participation of your staff, so give them what they want and need.

Be sure to promote the resources and make them accessible to your team. Leadership starts in the corner office, so be sure to get your senior staff involved early and often. Communicate regularly about the programs and resources available and incentivize your team through positive reinforcement.

The wellness program you develop is a reflection of your company and can go a long way in keeping your staff happy and healthy, improving productivity, and enhancing your company’s public image. When you invest in your team, the returns are guaranteed.

Need some ideas to get started? We’ve got a number of great, out-of-the box programs to add to your employee wellness plan! Contact us today.


One Response to Wellness Programs 101: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why

  1. Janette Lampe December 6, 2018 at 11:19 pm #

    So happy to see this conversation. It’s an important topic. At Kaiser Permanente we take our employee / physician model a step further and are moving from Wellness to a Well-Being approach. Agreed, a comprehensive wellness program should include spiritual, emotional, social, and mental health resources.
    We also feel that: Community Involvement, Career Wellness, Mental Health & Wellness, Healthy Relationships, Physical Health & Safety and Financial Wellness are all areas that affect Well-Being. It’s been interesting to see that the Financial piece of this is scoring highest on overall satisfaction.

    We are also looking close at the ‘creating incentives’ piece. Cash incentives don’t seem to have as much appeal as recognizing healthy habits, telling stories, and celebrating success. By creating a culture of health – everyone wins!
    Janette Lampe
    Corporate Events Manager
    Healthy Workforce
    Kaiser Permanente

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