Wellness programs have been part of some business models for decades and the trend has grown to the level where 85% of large companies offer wellness programs to their employees, according to a 2017 survey from Kaiser. The corporate wellness industry that provides wellness programs to companies of all sizes has increased annual revenue to $7 billion and is expected to grow further at a rate of 0.6% according to IBISWorld.
Wellness Programs are Flexible
Wellness programs vary by company and include a range of services. Some offer employee assistance programs and general health promotion information while others focus on disease management for employees dealing with chronic illnesses (i.e. diabetes, heart disease, obesity). Educational workshops may be provided to employees on topics such as smoking cessation, weight management and stress reduction.
On-site medical and/or fitness facilities offer a convenience to employees that reduces barriers to health behaviors such as exercise, health screening and medical treatment while also decreasing time away from work for outside appointments. Without a dedicated facility, companies may offer on-site health and fitness classes led by certified instructors. Online coaching and hotlines for medical assistance are also available.
Companies often incentivize participation with financial rewards (i.e. lower health insurance premium contributions) and contests that bring people together and add a fun social element to the program.
The Value of Wellness
Companies are primarily motivated by employee productivity and the rising cost of health care. They invest in their employees to lower health care costs and absenteeism, to bolster productivity and morale and also to recruit and retain talent. A 2010 article in the Harvard Business Review listed positive outcomes from several different company wellness initiatives:
- A return of $2.71 for every dollar spent at Johnson & Johnson.
- $1.5 million in cost savings at MD Anderson Cancer Center as a result of an 80% decrease in lost workdays and a 64% reduction in modified-duty days.
- Reduced annual medical claim costs of $1,421/person that added up to $6.00 in savings for every dollar invested at another company.
In addition to the evidence-based results, businesses leaders see wellness as the right thing to do, vital to their strategic planning and necessary for employee development and productivity.
Where are the Employees?
Many successes in worksite wellness have been celebrated and emulated, but the challenge of engagement persists. A 2011 report from the ADP Institute listed participation rates of 39% and 51% for large and medium-sized companies.
The value of wellness programs has been shown, and is often defined, at the company level. Companies study the demographics of employees, survey them about topics of interest, design effective marketing campaigns and offer incentives for participation. Return on investment, health care costs and employee engagement are key metrics. The best corporate programs build wellness into their business culture and communicate messages effectively.
This makes a lot of sense from the organizational perspective. Businesses must develop strategies, allocate resources and measure outcomes. Data points, opinions, actions and dollars may be assessed in aggregate, but lost in this conversation, however, is the perspective of the employee. As someone who has managed corporate fitness programs and worked with clients and members from a variety of professional backgrounds, my instinct is to think about the individuals that make up these reports.
Steps Employees Can Take
Talk to the wellness or benefits team at your company about how you can improve your health, fitness and wellness. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:
- Build fitness into your professional development plan. If you are saving for retirement and setting long-term career goals, why not do the same for your health?
- Assess your current state of health. Schedule a heath risk appraisal and biometric screening to measure your baseline values and learn what they mean.
- Evaluate your lifestyle and commit to healthy habits. Focus on exercise, healthy eating, weight management, coping skills for stress and get help quitting smoking if you need to.
- Prioritize one area your want to change and set a realistic goal. Create a 12-week program and track your progress on a weekly and monthly basis. Consult a professional about where to begin and how to progress. Continue the process with new goals and plans.
- Manage your workday. Instead of having good intentions and letting the day get away from you, be proactive about planning healthy meals and snacks as well as breaks for activity and stretching.
- Join “team wellness” at work. Wellness programs succeed when people across organizational levels are on the same page. Encourage your staff to participate, buddy up with someone from another department or sign up for the contest, workshop or class that matches your goal.
Employees and companies are in the distinct position of being able to promote health and wellness at their worksites. Reports show that employee wellness programs consistently yield a positive return on investment. That’s one thing we can all support – individually and collectively.