The current health status of Americans is the subject of widespread discussion. Whether it is our increasing waistlines, rising rates of heart disease, the epidemic of type 2 diabetes, rates of tobacco use and tobacco based illnesses, our propensity for inactivity or any of a myriad of other chronic and debilitating illnesses, we can all agree there are serious issues that contribute to exploding national healthcare costs. It’s important to remember that serious healthcare concerns don’t just effect our pocketbooks in the form of growing costs for medical care and increasing insurance premiums, they directly affect our nation’s workforce and the cost of doing business. It comes as no surprise that employers are embracing new strategies to improve the overall health of their workers and ultimately the company’s bottom line.
The poor health habits of many workers, growing rates of chronic disease, and the rising cost of health benefits have created an ever increasing interest in workplace wellness programs. Employers value these programs as a way to reduce absenteeism and employee turnover, and to offer benefits that are appealing to many current and prospective employees. Some evidence also suggests that comprehensive wellness programs may pay off for employers by reducing their expenditures for employee health care.
In fact, most employers who provide health insurance also provide some type of wellness benefit. The 2011 Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust annual survey of employer health benefits found that 67 percent of companies with three or more employees that offered health benefits also offered at least one wellness program. Slightly more than half (52 percent) also offered wellness benefits to spouses or dependents of employees.
Common Elements of Successful Workplace Wellness Programs
Typical features of wellness programs include:
1. Health-risk assessments and screenings for high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol;
2. Behavior modification programs, such as tobacco cessation, weight management, and exercise;
3. Health education, including classes or referrals to online sites for health advice;
4. Changes to the work environment, such as no-smoking policies and campus walking paths, or the provision of special benefits to encourage exercise and healthy food choices such as subsidized health club memberships, low-fat selections in the employee dining room, and healthy choices in company vending machines.
Incentives to Encourage Wellness Program Participation
Although almost all workplace wellness programs are voluntary, employers are increasingly adopting incentives to encourage employee participation. These incentives range from free passes to the employee dining room, prime parking spots, and nominal items such as t-shirts and ball caps, to cash or other gifts of significant value. Studies indicate that financial incentives can encourage more employees to participate in wellness programs. Employers are also linking participation in wellness programs to employee costs for health coverage – for example, by reducing premium contributions for workers who are in wellness programs, or by reducing the amounts they must pay in deductibles and co-payments when they obtain health services.
Benefits to Employers and Employees of Workplace Wellness Initiatives
A review of 36 peer-reviewed studies of wellness programs in large firms found that average employer medical costs fell $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs, and costs for days that employees were absent fell an average of an additional $2.73. Similarly, a 2005 meta-analysis of 56 published studies of health promotion programs at organizations of all sizes resulted in an overall reduction of 25 percent in sick leave, health plan costs, workers compensation and disability costs. Beside all of this, and the obvious human benefit of better health, companies with successful workplace wellness programs also report improved employee morale, employee loyalty, and increased productivity – that amounts to a win-win for all.
Invest in the Health of Your Employees
Poor diet and lack of exercise are responsible for at least 25% of healthcare costs incurred by working adults. Is it any wonder, then, that investing in the health of employees is one of the best decisions a company can make?
By creating a wellness environment, your company can help lower healthcare costs and protect its most important resource – your employees. In fact, research shows that for every $1 invested in worksite wellness, companies can receive more than $3 in return.
Some great resources are available at www.startwalkingnow.org/start_workplace.jsp, that you can use to help your employees get fit and heart healthy, and help your company reach its healthier goals.
1. Guide for Company Leaders – Utilize these tools to help your employees reduce the risk of illness and prolong their lives by getting fit and heart healthy.
2. National Walking Day – Get your employees up and moving with the rest of corporate America on National Walking Day.
3. Snacking Well in the Workplace – Help employees make smart food choices in the office with our Virtual Snack Machine. Find how fruits and vegetables are often less expensive – and better for employees – than common snacks.
4. My Activity Tracker – Sign up your company for the free, online Activity Tracker. It allows employees to post their physical activities. The tool also has functionality that, with the user’s permission, lets you see their progress, giving you an easy way to encourage their physical activity progress and recognize achievements.