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Do Corporate Wellness Programs Work?

Posted by Mike Wright on December 17, 2015

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In our last blog article, we explored some corporate wellness program ideas. About half of American companies now have wellness programs. But do they really work? Should your company have one?

Benefits

In 2012, the American Journal of Health Promotion issued a report on companies with wellness programs. Employers in the study said they had 25% lower costs for:

  • Sick leave
  • Their health plan
  • Workers’ compensation
  • Disability insurance

In 2014 the Harvard Business Review studied 20 companies. For those with wellness programs, average annual health care costs rose 1-2%. The national average is 7%. And a 7-year study at PepsiCo, also released in 2014, showed a $3.80 return for every dollar spent on disease management programs. Those addressed issues such as Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. “Lifestyle” programs generated a return of 50-cents per dollar spent. Employers with wellness programs also report increased productivity.

There are benefits beyond cost savings. You can track goals such as fewer workers’ comp injuries, fewer sick days or retention rate. Wellness programs also benefit your employees, of course. They can enjoy improved health. They can also reduce their risk of developing chronic problems such as heart disease or diabetes. 

Successful Corporate Wellness Programs Incorporate These Best Practices

1.  Comprehensive commitment to a healthy work environment

This includes healthier food choices for the cafeteria, vending machines and meetings. It includes stress reduction techniques and/or encouraging physical activity during lunch and breaks. Workplace safety training and practices are an integral part of a corporate wellness program.

2.  Formal Structure

This emphasizes the program’s importance and ensures better coordination and follow-up. Designate a “wellness czar” and allot support funding. (Programs need not be expensive to be effective.) Leaders should show the way. Talking up the program is important, but they should take part, too.

3.  Multiple options

Offering a variety of programs makes it easier for people to join in. Choose programs that meet needs common among your employee population. Those might be weight issues, high cholesterol, smoking, etc. Make sure programs can accommodate different ability levels. Some popular examples are:

  • Yoga
  • Fitness classes
  • Weight-loss challenges
  • Nutrition and healthy cooking classes
  • Quit-smoking programs
  • General education resources

Some companies offer health screenings. The data can provide valuable information to individuals about their health status. And it creates benchmarks for improvement.

4. Coordination with existing resources

That should include your company’s employee assistance program, if you have one. Sometimes people need help achieving emotional and/or physical health goals. You can also partner with your insurance provider or others for programming or funding support.

5. Continuous improvement

Track participation, and if possible the results. That way you’ll know what’s working and what is not. Tracking also allows you to measure return on investment.

6. Multi-pronged communication strategy

Use internal memos, posters, online resources and face-to-face gatherings to create awareness and interest.

 

Offering Incentives for Corporate Wellness Programs

Financial incentives are another great tool to encourage participation. The Affordable Care Act allows financial rewards, especially for smoking cessation. Yet, some companies are concerned that financial incentives may be perceived as “bribes” that may motivate short-term interest but not long-term results.

Georgetown University studies these issues, at their Center on Health Insurance Reforms. They say there is “no evidence that putting money on the line” improves long-term outcomes. Some companies choose fun, informal rewards instead, such as company T-shirts and light-hearted contests.

The bottom line? Even a small corporate wellness program is bound to be more effective than doing nothing.

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