Healthcare costs are rising astronomically. This is not only reflected in premiums for employees but also in the share that employers typically pay. According to SHRM, the cost of employer-sponsored health care in 2019 is expected to reach $15,000 per employee. The high cost of health care, in part, explains the trend of corporate wellness programs.

Why Bother?

I first came across the idea of a corporate wellness program during my time working for local government. The organization’s award-winning program was comprised of several value-added incentives for employees to stay healthy. Examples included free and discounted gym memberships, employee rebates for completing activities such as getting a flu shot or a physical and employee weight loss support groups, just to name a few. Comprehensive programs such as this require a lot of time, human capital and money. Don’t believe us? Here’s Jennifer Birch’s take on why you should prioritize corporate wellness.

Benefits of Wellness

The benefits of corporate wellness programs for both the employer and employee are almost too numerous to count. But we’ll start with bargaining power with insurance companies. Having a wellness program that encourages employees to pursue healthier lifestyles gives the company the ability to bargain for lower insurance premiums and other things employees notice like monthly rebates in their paychecks. In addition to lower premiums, healthier employees take less sick days. Less sick days can result in increased productivity and higher employee morale because the remaining employees aren’t overburdened with work (consider reading more about work burnout). Speaking of morale, employees who feel like their employer genuinely cares about their overall physical, mental and financial health are likely to have higher morale.

Another benefit of corporate wellness programs is that they drive up total compensation. Total compensation is everything the employer gives to the employee. This includes, but is not limited to, wages. Total compensation also includes workplace perks such as paid time off, free snacks in the break room and flexible scheduling. Corporate wellness programs contribute significantly to total compensation and are great recruitment selling points.

Smaller companies and organizations may feel as if they don’t have the resources to create such a program. Nonetheless, small steps can still be implemented to encourage employees to be more health conscious and avoid mental fatigue. These steps could include offering time off for doctor’s appointments and flu shots or prizes for employees who take part in healthy activities such as step counting challenges. Here are some apps for promoting employee wellness. One thing to remember is that health and wellness isn’t just physical. It needs to incorporate the employee’s mental and financial health as well. Things like stress management at work should also be a part of your strategy.

Implementing a Program

Employee well-being must actually be the goal

It is undeniable that there are financial benefits to having an corporate wellness program. Employees that work in a poor state of well-being are both less focused and performant at work. A lower level of performance directly translates into a higher operating cost, on top of the regular healthcare costs you are paying as an employer. However, if that is the primary reason for deciding to implement an employee wellness program, that will come across in company-wide communications and strategic decisions. Employees will pick up on that and may become resentful of the plan, leading to a lower rate of buy-in.

One example of this would be a company charging their employees an annual fee for continuing to smoke (pg. 6), which could obviously help offset the company’s health costs. However, this will likely incite hostility from employees who will view this as over-reaching into their individual lives. If communicated as an optional benefit, instead of another requirement you’ve placed upon your employees, you will have a higher likelihood of buy-in and positive reception. Here are some tips for helping your employees to maintain motivation in their fitness journeys.

Don’t Expect Quick Results

Again, as an employer, you stand to save money by providing resources for your employees’ health journeys. So to be unapologetically ironic for a moment, let’s focus on the financial benefits. We all want to save money fast, it’s understandable. However, in a 2013 report by the RAND corporation, on average, employers won’t start seeing a significant decrease in healthcare costs until about five years after implementing their wellness programs. Though after the five-year mark, most programs tend to become cost neutral. So, if you decide to implement a wellness plan, be sure to commit to the long game.

Getting People on Board

We’ve talked about needing employee buy-in, but what is even more important is employer buy-in, from the very top all the way down. Leadership at every level of the organization needs to be able to get behind the plan or it will flop. Because, honestly, if there isn’t buy-in from the company leaders (pg. 18), then how can employee well-being be that important? A lack of upper-management buy-in will not be lost on those being asked to participate, and they will tend to follow suit.

Furthermore, if systems are not put in place to broadly and clearly communicate the plan and its features to the entire company then you will see poor results. It is a fact that every inaccessible wellness plan will fail. You might as well take the money you spend and wallpaper all the offices in dollar bills, because the net benefit to the company is the same as a wellness plan that doesn’t have a clear communication and feedback plan. In instances where only a select group of people were allowed to communicate with employee-participants, it was very difficult to keep everyone together and actually participating.

Workplace wellness may seem like a fad, but my gut tells me this trend is here for the long haul. You’ve read why you should consider it and how to do it well, now it’s up to you to decide whether it’s the right commitment for your organization.

Stay healthy!

A collaboration between Techiedoodler’s Jenni and
VTR‘s Turner Bass & Bryana Wall