Why Workplace Wellness is Important
by Karen Smith
Director, Health and Wellness Services
Rose & Kiernan, Inc.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
- 59% of employees do not get adequate exercise
- 50% or more have high cholesterol
- 27% have cardiovascular disease
- 26% are overweight by 20 percent or more
- 24% have high blood pressure
Employee health affects more than just medical costs. A healthy workforce is a more productive workforce. Did you know that between 70 to 90 percent of health care spending is caused by preventable, modifiable health risks such as the ones bulleted above? Unhealthy lifestyle choices often lead to chronic diseases, costing businesses more than one trillion dollars in lost productivity alone. What all of this means is that promoting healthier behaviors can really pay off … the reason that workplace wellness is such a hot topic right now.
There are many different types of wellness programs. The essence of these programs is to encourage individuals to take preventive measures to avert the onset or worsening of an illness or disease and to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
As healthcare costs continue to rise, it makes sense that addressing the specific needs of an employee population and maximizing the engagement and participation of workplace wellness programs is critical. But how can you change behaviors?
Employers play an important role
Changing our behavior is ultimately up to each of us as individuals. However, employers have a tremendous opportunity to help their employees see the value of adopting healthier behaviors so that they can live healthier lives.
A workplace culture sets the tone for its employees. A supportive work environment, where managers reinforce a sound wellness strategy, can keep employees motivated and engaged. Wellness and incentive programs can be used to drive and reinforce healthy behaviors, bringing benefits to the employer, the employee, and to the community.
Employers may utilize a wide range of wellness initiatives such as smoking cessation programs, flu shots and health fairs, gym memberships, newsletters, and more. While some businesses have instituted very comprehensive wellness programs, others have achieved savings or increased productivity with just a few simple activities that promote healthy behaviors. What’s most important is to commit to wellness promotion in the organization.
So why is it, then, that employers over the years have not been quick to offer these programs? Many employers still seem to question whether or not workplace wellness is worth the investment.
As with anything, wellness programs present organizations with a set of challenges. Success is largely dependent on factors outside employers’ control: employee adoption and maintenance of healthy behaviors, employees keeping health risks low, employees not getting chronic diseases, and employees not leaving the company. To reap the benefits of a wellness program, employers must maximize employee buy-in and participation.
Additionally, measuring the success (or ROI) of these programs is difficult to do accurately and comprehensively. Every program and level of investment is unique to the employer; participation levels are unique; employee health and health outcomes are also unique. Nevertheless, most industry literature and research agrees that the typical return on a wellness program is said to be from $3-$6 for every $1 invested, with savings realized 2-3 years after implementation.
Worksite health promotion should be viewed as an investment in a business’ most important asset, its employees. Studies show that employees are more likely to be on the job and performing well when they are in optimal health. Benefits of implementing a wellness program include:
- Attracting the most talented workers
- Reducing absenteeism and lost time
- Improving on-the-job time utilization, decision making and productivity
- Improving employee morale
- Reduction in turnover
- Improved disease management and prevention, and a healthier workforce in general, both of which contribute to lower health care costs.
The Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) is dedicated to the promotion of worksite wellness, and has identified the seven best practices for employers to follow when building a wellness program within their organization. Information can be found at www.welcoa.org.
This article originally appeared in Breaking Glass, a quarterly newsletter of the Chamber's Women's Business Council.