Why Wellness Works: How to Turn Your Workforce Into a WELLFORCE
Jun 1, 2012
As the health care landscape continues to change at an unprecedented pace, companies are left wondering, “How do we make this work?” The answer, simply, is worksite wellness. With so many companies finding themselves on shoestring budgets and making cuts, other companies are realizing that instead of “shoe strings,” sneakers (and gym memberships, healthy vending options, and stress management classes) are what will save them money in the long run (pun intended).
While Fortune 500 companies have offered worksite wellness programs to their employees for several decades, small and mid-sized employers have historically found it more challenging to offer such programs, until they begin seeing double-digit premium increases, skyrocketing absenteeism, presenteeism, and workers’ comp claims. When companies begin to understand that 50 to 70% of all chronic diseases (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.) can be linked to an unhealthy lifestyle, they can begin to understand the need for, and importance of, a worksite wellness program. Research has shown that many of these chronic diseases can be prevented through a healthy and balanced lifestyle, including regular exercise, a healthy diet, stress management and not using tobacco products. An unhealthy employee not only costs companies money in terms of claims cost and premium increases, but can also be less productive at work.
The key is getting employees to set personal health goals and accept responsibility and accountability for their own health. We often spend more waking hours with our co-workers than we do with our own families. It makes intuitive sense for employers to take advantage of the time they spend with employees to encourage them to adopt healthy lifestyles. Properly implemented workplace wellness programs have a favorable impact on organizations through improved employee engagement, worker absenteeism and morale, presenteeism, and productivity. Wellness programs promote an “Employer of Choice” culture that the organization desires. These programs also ultimately improve the quality of life for the employees and their families
As Americans, we have come to expect quick fixes to treat our high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes. We expect that when illnesses pop up, we can take a pill to eliminate them. But that concept toward health is reactionary and not sustainable. Employers of all sizes are realizing that the road to wellness needs to run with a proactive approach, rather than a reactive one. Programs typically take between three and five years to see a large return on investment, but effects on morale and productivity are almost immediate.
Wellness is a marathon, not a sprint.
Worksite wellness enables employers to invest in their most valuable resource; their workforce becomes their WELLFORCE. The benefits can be seen at companies of all sizes. A happier, healthier, less-stressed employee is an asset to any company, big or small. Implementing a comprehensive workplace wellness program that is designed to help encourage employees to take steps to improve their health on a daily basis should be a main focus for any organization, and can be creatively delivered in ways that will not only stabilize the bottom line, but improve it.
Small and mid-sized companies have many options to help them create a comprehensive program that will produce results. Creative approaches to encouraging behavior change include premium reductions for employees who meet participation and personal wellness goals. Many insurance carriers offer wellness programs to their clients and members. The comprehensiveness of the program can vary, based on the carrier. Take advantage of any programs the carrier has to offer, but you will often need to supplement their services to ensure your total employee population can take advantage of your program, not just those covered under the benefits plan. Smart employers realize that more and more healthcare carriers and insurance brokers are offering wellness services as an added value to contracting with them. It is in an organization’s best interest to negotiate that biometric screenings and health risk assessments be included as part of the benefits package. Health fairs and health risk assessments only scratch the surface of worksite wellness and total population health management. Organizations should be cautioned that many of these carrier programs tend to be turnkey, or “wellness in a box.” Carriers can rarely provide the tailored, hands-on programs that are customized to the company’s employees, industry, and size that you may able to find through a wellness consultant.
Comprehensive wellness consultants will assist in the design, facilitation, implementation, and evaluation of your program and offer best practice approaches to ensure you meet your pre-established goals. Employers should consider incentive programs, customized educational lunch and learns, health coaching, nutrition education, fitness and weight loss competitions, walking programs, vending machine and smoke-free campus policies, and smoking cessation incentives, just to name a few. If you think of your employees as your most valuable resource, then an employee wellness program should be a top priority to your organization.
For employees, wellness programs provide all of the above resources to encourage and support them in setting goals and “sticking to it”. Worksite wellness helps employees discover ways to fit healthy eating and exercise into the work day, whether they are in the office or on the road, so that it stops being a burden and becomes a manageable (and even enjoyable) part of their lives. The wellness program encourages co-workers to participate and support each other. As employees become healthier and lower their health risk factors, they eventually save money on your health care costs, through lower premiums and fewer medical bills. Although you may not see immediate results, you’ll feel the difference within a few weeks – such as more energy, lower stress levels and better sleep at night.
Worksite wellness programs enable employers to engage their employees to “take the ball and run with it.” They ultimately make for a stronger organization and WELLFORCE. After all, a person’s health can be judged by which of the following they take two at a time: pills or stairs.
About The Author
Brittany currently serves as the Account Coordinator for Seitlin’s Corporate Wellness Services, assisting with the implementation, design, and evaluation of corporate wellness programs. Kirstie serves as Director of Corporate Health Management and Wellness Services for Seitlin, a Marsh & McClennan Agency LLC Company.