By: Debra Kabalkin on July 17th, 2013

Print/Save as PDF

How to Create a Wellness Program at Work

Benefits | Business Management & Strategy | Best Practices | Employee Relations

Are you concerned about your employees' physical and mental health? Of course you are! Have you created a wellness program? Maybe not quite yet. I know, starting a new program can be challenging and seem like a lot of work initially. There's the chance that the program can fizzle if you don't stick to it, you may not have buy-in, and more importantly where on earth do you find the time to get started? But I'm here to help you on this one, so let's talk about it...

Where we are today

The reality is that obesity, stress and smoking are huge setbacks in having a healthy, sustainable and productive workforce today. Known to cause overall poor health, obesity and smoking are the top two causes of preventable death in the United States. Employees suffering from these conditions have demonstrated lost productivity estimated to be $39.3 million per year and increased healthcare costs.1 Research has also shown that employers discriminate against these workers, with obese women earning an average 6.2% less than their counterparts who have a healthy weight.2 Now let's look at tobacco use — employers that hire smokers bear indirect costs, including more employee absenteeism, productivity losses ($92 billion) and increased early retirement due to smoking-related illness.3 And stress, stress does not do a body good! In fact, 51% of employees said they were less productive at work as a result of stress and job stress is estimated to cost U.S. industry more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity and medical, legal and insurance costs.4

Why create change

If those eye-awakening stats aren't enough, let me share some benefits that will hopefully inspire you to create a change. Beginning in January 2014 under the Affordable Care Act, there will be increased incentives offered to companies that have wellness programs in place (30% for wellness programs and up to 50% for smoking cessation programs). Additionally, employers will see a reduction in overall healthcare costs, decreased rates of illness and injuries, reduced absenteeism, and an improvement in overall morale and productivity creating a thriving culture of wellness. For instance, Johnson & Johnson leaders estimate that wellness programs have cumulatively saved the company $250 million on health care costs over the past decade; from 2002 to 2008, the return was $2.71 for every dollar spent.5

How to Implement

If you decide to make the commitment to start a program, make sure it becomes a part of the culture and is embraced by the entire team—and stick to it! Be clear about your objectives; know what you want to see happen as a result of your efforts. Successful programs are often run by a committee that works with key groups at your organization to sell ideas and gain support. Recognize that every organization is different and everyone's needs vary as well. Some people may want gym reimbursements while others may want a peer support group or training seminars. Your benefit broker can be a great resource on helping you to implement wellness offerings available through your insurance providers such as Kaiser PermanenteUnitedHealthcare, and Anthem. They can enhance your program with essential components such as fitness training, nutrition counseling, smoking cessation solutions, etc. A recent Gallup survey recommends that employers create effective and easy interventions, such as offering safe exercise space and developing healthy food programs that will ensure access to all employees.6 Poll your employees to understand what will work long term for them and the company as a whole and most importantly, make sure you are considerate about how individual employees may react towards the push for a healthier lifestyle change. After all, the goal is to make this both a positive and productive program.

Make it stick!

On the topic of making it positive and productive, don't forget to reward the changed behavior and make it fun for your whole team! Studies indicate that at least 75% of all companies that implement a wellness program use some sort of reward to drive participation and success.2 To further motivate your employees, try a friendly competition to leverage teamwork such as a "biggest loser competition" or a healthy cook-off and treat the winner(s) to a healthy catered lunch. Another fun camaraderie activity is a walking program where you could track miles and reward employees with a new pair of running shoes or custom pedometers. Decreased premiums, monetary bonuses, or thoughtful gifts, whatever you do, the rewards for improved health and wellness for your employees and the increased productivity should be a win-win for all.

1Get America Fit Foundation Obesity Related Statistics in America
2Huffington Post: America's Most Obese Workers: Jobs With The Heaviest Employees
3CareerBuilder: Smokers drag down a workplace, study says
4American Psychological Association Practice Organization
5Harvard Business Review: What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs?
6Power2Motivate Creating Effective Workplace Wellness Programs