Successfully implementing an employee wellness program can increase the potential of boosting overall employee health and creating an environment that fosters greater productivity, workforce camaraderie and decreased absenteeism. In many cases, a focus on wellness can also help decrease employers’ insurance costs.
A successful wellness program can begin with the vision of a single person, as evidenced by the program at the Oncology Nursing Society. When the organization built its Pittsburgh office center eight years ago, Ellie Mary, CWWS, suggested that a then-unoccupied area be used as a temporary employee workout space. After receiving approval, Mary created a simple fitness center with a few exercise classes, a television for workout DVDs and an indoor walking space for use during periods of inclement weather. Mary’s initiative sparked a company-wide wellness movement. Today, the organization has a modern on-site gym with multiple treadmills, elliptical machines and weights along with sidewalks and a bike rack outside.
ADP, Inc., a company providing human resource management applications, benefit administration and payroll services, recently conducted a study that revealed 79% of large and 44% of mid-sized businesses currently offer corporate wellness programs. Each typically includes five to six components, such as health screenings, weight-loss support, exercise programs, employee-assistance programs and smoking cessation programs.
The first step in creating an employee wellness program is to identify a coordinator who has the time and ambition to dedicate to the cause. While the coordinator will oversee the project, it can help to form a committee of people to assist in planning and executing wellness initiatives. This also fosters enthusiasm for the program, especially if participants come from various departments and levels of the organization.
The committee should conduct a needs assessment to identify existing resources and potential areas of health improvement. This may involve things like the evaluation of employees’ overall health, their access to more healthy food and opportunities for physical activity. The committee may consider surveying employees’ needs and interests to further boost enthusiasm for the cause. Finally, once priorities are identified, the group must choose the activities that can best help achieve corporate wellness goals.
Many times, companies decide to provide incentives to employees who achieve goals such as quitting smoking or reducing cholesterol. Not only do these benefits help keep insurance costs down, they allow businesses to demonstrate their regard for their employees and showcase the effectiveness of their program.
While these programs do have obvious positive effects, the American Journal of Health Promotion (AJHP) advises employers to use caution when offering monetary benefits in corporate wellness plans. Two studies of several dozen employers revealed that participation in wellness programs reached 70% with financial incentives of a few hundred dollars. Participation reached 90% when the incentive was integrated into the employee health plan.
At the same time, there is little proof that monetary incentives facilitate long-term effectiveness of wellness programs. Some evidence shows that program participants are more motivated by the incentives than by the wellness itself, and they cease participation if the incentives are removed, so keep this in mind when implementing any incentive programs.
Either way, the AJHP shows evidence that wellness programs are most effective in improving health, reducing medical costs and engaging employees in health-related education. Wellness programs can also help increase productivity when they focus on building skills, creating opportunities, boosting motivation and increasing awareness.