Workplace Wellness Programs Benefit Employers and Employees
Five years ago, Renee Covell experienced health issues and was admitted to the hospital. During her stay she reflected on her life.
“I asked myself, ‘If I were to die, what three things would I have wished I had done?’” says Covell.
The first thing on Covell’s list was to get healthy. She had been out of shape most of her life. She started training to get fit. Eighteen months later, she competed in a body-building contest.
“Fitness became one of my passions. My other passion was business,” says Covell, a business professor at Penn State University who has a doctorate and an MBA.
Covell combined her two passions by founding Vell9Fitness, a corporate wellness firm based in Lebanon County and committed to helping companies create on- and off-site wellness programs.
“We see a world in which business can grow and thrive by helping their employees grow and thrive,” says Covell.
The idea of workplace wellness programs has grown significantly over the past decade. Seventy-six percent of employers offered some type of wellness program resource or service to employees in 2014, according to the 2015 Healthcare Trends Institute. That figure is up from 58 percent in 2008.
Jason Lang, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Health Promotion Program, says, “All workplaces should provide opportunities for employees to improve their health and well-being.”
The CDC has called upon employers to make changes in the workplace to curb rising costs of insurance premiums and medical claims, which are at an all-time high.
Four of the 10 most expensive health conditions are related to heart disease and stroke. They are: high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes, and chest pain.
Fewer employers can continue to ignore the startling statistics. Productivity losses linked to employees who miss work cost employers $225 billion annually, and $1.87 trillion spent on healthcare in 2010 was used for treating preventable conditions.
Workplace wellness programs are a win-win for employers and employees, says Covell. Employer benefits include:
• Reduced, or contained, healthcare costs
• Increased employee productivity
• Reduced costs of disability, drugs, and absenteeism
• More effective recruitment of new employees and retention of current employees
• Reduced effects of workplace stress
• Improved morale through the creation of a happy, supportive environment
“Providing wellness programs helps reduce healthcare costs for employers,” offers Covell. “Researchers discovered that medical costs fell $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs.”
According to a national survey, 72 percent of employers said wellness programs reduced their cost of healthcare, and 80 percent who measured the return on investment said it had a positive impact, according to the CDC.
Covell recommends four necessary steps to create a new workplace wellness program: assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation.
“Without assessing the current state of wellness prior to implementing the program and determining what works best for your company, you will never know its impact,” says Covell.
Measurable assessment items include productivity, healthcare costs, improved health outcomes, organizational change, employee surveys, and feedback.
Getting buy-in from senior management is one of the keys to implementing a workplace wellness program, stresses Covell.
“These programs are growing in popularity because senior management can measure the results and see positive outcomes,” she says.
Covell admits that starting a workplace wellness program is a bigger challenge for smaller companies.
“Smaller employers often focus on the upfront costs of a workplace wellness program,” she says. “But, there are various elements that can be incorporated into the workplace, depending on the budget. There is no ‘one size fits all.’”
Covell suggests smaller employers can offer discount gym memberships, wellness newsletters, and educational programs and workshops, as well as coordinated activities.
Employees garner multiple benefits from workplace wellness programs. Benefits include:
• Improved health and well-being
• Increased production
• Higher morale and greater job satisfaction
• Increased awareness and knowledge of ways to improve their health
• Reduced personal healthcare costs
• A less stressful workplace
“Many employees appreciate the opportunity to be part of a workplace wellness program,” says Covell. “They want to improve their health, but they need structure, a sense of community, and help in incorporating healthy activities into their lifestyle.
“Mandating employees be part of a workplace wellness program is a bad idea,” she continues. “Employees should be excited about joining a program. Employers can show them how the program can positively impact them and their families.”
Covell says an employee wellness committee is an essential part of a workplace wellness program. Typically, a wellness committee is composed of employees from various departments or divisions. The committee provides ongoing feedback to senior management.
Covell recommends employees partner with a workout buddy for support. Statistics show that people are more successful with their workout routines or activities if they do them with a friend or coworker.
“We envision that our clients’ employees will come to work happy, well rested, and motivated, and they will go home, still energized and ready for their second job that their home lives bring them,” says Covell.
That’s a combination that benefits employers, employees, and their families. BW