Corporate Wellness Programs: Healthy Employees, Healthy Companies

Sep 18, 14 Corporate Wellness Programs: Healthy Employees, Healthy Companies

Over the past few years, the number of companies that offer wellness programs and incentives to their employees has increased significantly. Companies are no longer just offering employees discounted memberships to gyms as a part of their wellness programs. The 60% of companies with wellness initiatives are offering incentives that range from fines for not completing preventative health screenings, to group fitness classes to even being paid bonuses for completing triathlons.

Healthy employees save employers time and money, as they tend to take fewer sick days and are more productive in the office. Additionally, wellness programs are seen as effective method to lower or contain medical care; these programs are now more widely offered as part of comprehensive insurance benefits packages, and terms in the Affordable Care Act serve to encourage the growth of these initiatives. This $6 billion a year industry is growing in such a way that companies don’t even have to design their own programs.  For example, VirginHealthMiles helps employers design programs to keep employees healthy that best fit the goals of the company.

Wellness initiatives are investments, and just like any investment, companies hope to see a return. However, the kinds of returns depend on the goal of the wellness programs. If a company wants to improve the health and productivity of its employees, evidence-based lifestyle management programs are often the most effective. These programs focus on promoting healthy lifestyles, maintaining good health and preventing disease. For example, Safeway offers its employees a preventative-care health center, an on-site fitness center and health-focused cafeteria options. With the mindset that they are a “wellness company that happens to sell groceries,” Safeway has integrated health and wellness into its overall company mission, and its wellness program has participation rates of over 80%.

On the other hand, if the goal is to achieve healthy ROI (in addition to healthy employees), employers should target their programs toward employees who have chronic diseases. A 2010 study done by Harvard found that for each dollar employees spend on wellness programs, companies save $3 in both healthcare costs and expenses from absenteeism. However, these savings tend to come from employees that already have some kind of chronic illness, since the number and length of hospital stays are typically reduced. For example, Johnson & Johnson offers more personalized wellness programs to employees based on their health risks and insurance claims. This allows the company to tailor programs to individuals who have on-going conditions, and Johnson & Johnson reports a $4 ROI for every dollar they spend on their employee wellness program.

“The health and wellness sector of the economy will continue to grow exponentially over the next decade,” says George L. San Jose, president and chief creative officer of The San Jose Group. “The dust on health care reform is beginning to settle and ancillary businesses are beginning to emerge, creating a marketing opportunity of epic proportions.”

No matter the goal of wellness programs for companies, the health and wellness of employees should be emphasized to encourage maximum involvement. Ultimately, these wellness programs are to improve the health of the employees–as well as the company as a whole.

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