Corporate Wellness programs are more popular than ever. They started out as employee perks for large corporations; in fact, they used to be called corporate fitness programs. Today wellbeing programs are common among both medium and small-sized businesses. Wellbeing programs are now regularly part of a company benefits package.
When done correctly, wellbeing programs give employees incentives, tools, social support, privacy, and strategies to adopt and maintain healthy behaviours. Most worksites do a pretty good job of helping employees improve health behaviours. In fact, I would go so far as to say that worksites, both private and public, are the chronic disease prevention centers of the United States.
Worksites are doing more to prevent, arrest, and even reverse chronic diseases than any other group. Hospitals are great at treating disease and they are good at early detection of disease, but they don’t do much in the way of disease prevention. The total reach and impact of worksite wellbeing programs dwarfs all other efforts to improve the health of adults.
Mountains of Evidence Show the Benefits of Wellbeing
Think of the different benefits employers typically offer. These could include a retirement or pension plan, healthcare, paid time off, or maternity leave. These are designed to help your organization recruit and maintain qualified employees. Yet there is not a single published study that shows that offering these benefits as any measurable effect on it worksite’s ability to recruit or maintain workers. We do them because we believe they are important.
These things are actually very hard to study and we have a feeling or sense that they do make a difference in our ability to attract good workers. But, there is no science to back any of this up.
Now consider your wellbeing program. Unlike all the other benefits your worksite offers, wellbeing programs have been studied for decades. There are hundreds and hundreds of rigorous scientific evaluations of the impact of wellbeing programs. There is more research on the impact of wellbeing programs than anything else your company does. Granted, the research is not perfect—no research ever is.
7 Most Important Reasons to Offer Employee Wellbeing at Work
1) Wellbeing Programs Improve Employee Health Behaviours
The core of every good wellbeing program is behaviour change. With the right education, skills, motivation, skills/tools, and social support, people change behaviours. Wellbeing programs are good at helping people adopt and maintain healthy behaviours. This is perhaps the biggest benefit of having a wellbeing program.
Healthy behaviours lead to lower health risks, and lower health risks lead to less chronic disease. With less chronic disease employees have fewer health care costs.
2) Wellbeing Programs Reduce Elevated Health Risks
The foundation of any good wellbeing program must be focused on helping employees adopt healthy behaviors. Elevated blood glucose, high blood cholesterol, and high blood pressure are almost all caused by unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity. Eating and exercising are behaviors. A few years ago I published the results of a randomized clinical trial that helped people improve their nutrition and physical activity.
3) Wellbeing Programs Reduce Health Care Costs
There are almost 100 different studies that have looked at the financial impact of wellbeing programs. Comprehensive worksite wellbeing programs that improve employee behaviors will see a bending of the healthcare cost trend. Most often they will discover that the savings from program participation will be greater than the actual cost of the program. Almost everyone of these return on investment (ROI) studies show a positive return on investment. Researchers from Harvard recently published another summary of the wellbeing ROI research.
4) Wellbeing Programs Improve Productivity
Poor employee productivity can be defined as physically being at work but not working. This type of poor productivity is called presenteeism. It is estimated that the cost associated with presenteeism due to poor employee health is at least 2 to 3 times greater than direct health care expenses. While the estimated cost of presenteeism dwarfs the cost of health care, it does not receive the same level of scrutiny among employers preoccupied with controlling the direct costs of poor employee health.
5) Wellbeing Programs Can Decrease Absenteeism
There are over 50 papers that have looked at the connections between worksite wellbeing programs and reduced absenteeism. Worksites with comprehensive wellbeing programs can experience reduced absenteeism for a variety of reasons:
- Employees with good health behaviours have lower absenteeism.
- Employees who can control their stress have lower absenteeism.
- Employees with healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose have lower absenteeism.
- Employees who are not overweight or obese have lower absenteeism
6) Wellbeing Programs Can Help Improve Employee Recruitment and Retention
There is no published scientific data that shows that wellbeing programs will make a significant impact on your ability to recruit and retain employees. There are a lot of factors that go into the decision to accept a job offer. It helps if you can offer a good salary and a rich benefits plan. Wellbeing programs do have a strong impact on retention. Retention is the ability a worksite has to retain its workforce. Rich benefits also have a powerful influence on retention, but a good wellbeing program can help keep employees loyal.
7) Wellbeing Programs Build and Help Sustain High Employee Morale
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The WellSteps Wellbeing solutions has a performance guarantee. After three years we guarantee that your wellbeing program will have a positive return on investment. The secret is that after three years almost nobody cares about the ROI.
There are many reasons to start a wellbeing program, but after employees start to engage, communicate with each other, feel valued and appreciated, the reasons for doing a wellbeing program change. After three years we have found that our clients like to do wellbeing because they like the way it has changed their worksite culture. Employees are obviously healthier but more importantly they are happier.
When you offer your employees a wellbeing program you are telling them that you respect them, you trust them, and that you want to help them be successful in life. Employees have high employee morale when they are allowed to be creative, solve problems, feel safe and appreciated, develop self-esteem, and achieve personal goals and aspirations. Employees are happy when they have a sense of control over their lives and their health.
There is an enormous amount of research to support the benefits of wellbeing. A comprehensive wellbeing program is going to improve employee health and improve your organization’s bottom line. It is not going to make all your problems go away, but it is going to help you create a worksite culture of health. It will boost and maintain employee morale. With an effective wellbeing program you will improve the lives of your employees and help drive the success of your organisation.
Article by Dr Steven Aldana, CEO of WellSteps (abbreviated)