What Employers are Doing to Help Workers Stay Healthy

In an uncertain economy, many employers have adjusted to small profit margins as a new reality. For these companies, finding ways to cut both healthcare cost and risk is key to maintaining financial longevity. There are numerous ways that some employers are managing to influence the “cost curve” and in some rare cases, actually lower healthcare costs. A trend that’s been growing rapidly in popularity among business owners is investing in the strategic use of wellness programs, that reduce employee health risk factors and better manage chronic illness according to a Colonial Life white paper on the topic. Aside from lowering direct healthcare costs, creating a positive, safe and healthy work environment for employees, wellness programs can increase morale, improve employee work-life balance and positively impact an organization.


Addressing Healthcare Cost in an Uncertain Economy

Between skyrocketing healthcare costs and unpredictable economic conditions, companies finding a creative way through wellness programs to save money and improve employee productivity at the same time. According to the Towers Perrin Health Care Cost Survey, the average employee’s share of medical costs has increased 10 percent since 2009. While workers’ earnings have increased 37 percent since 2000, the increase pales in comparison to the 149 percent rise in active employee healthcare costs during the same period. What companies are finding through the implementation of wellness programs is that they can reduce health and disability insurance costs, cut employee sick days by more than 10 percent, and increase productivity while decreasing turnover.


More Than Just a Luxury

Although some skeptics still view wellness programs as costly and unproven luxury, they are emerging as one of the most effective ways for businesses to grapple with healthcare costs. In reality, wellness programs have a lot of potential to save companies money and even add to revenue in some cases. However, cost savings is the primary factor driving the widespread adoption of wellness programs.

With healthier employees, businesses can save money via reduced claims, simply because healthy employees typically need less medical attention. According to a recent study, nearly half of healthcare costs can be attributed to preventable illness. At first, this statistic seems surprising however, when you consider all of the risk factors like smoking, inactivity, weight gain, depression and hypertension, it’s easier to see how claims can quickly spiral out of control. This is why employers argue it makes sense to invest in employee wellness. Outside of saving money through a reduction in claims, organizations with wellness programs help employees stay more alert and engaged so that they work more precisely with more focus. This results in increased quality of work and productivity.


Changing the Office Culture

Each wellness program is different, depending on the company’s policy. At Twitter, employees at the San Francisco headquarters are encouraged to stay healthy by participating in onsite yoga, PIlates, Wing Chung Kung Fu and CrossFit classes. Onsite massages and acupuncture sessions are also available for free. Amy Obana, HR and Wellness program manager, said Twitter aims to avoid worker fatigue by offering diverse fitness and wellness programs to encourage renewal so employees can better manage their energy and get more done in a sustainable way, according to a recent LinkedIn article.

At TELUS, a Canadian phone company with approximately 26,000 employees in 13 locations, offers internal fitness facilities with cardio equipment, weights, group fitness classes, onsite massages, active living challenges and mental health support. Progressive Insurance, headquartered in Cleveland, helps its 26,000 employees stay healthy by offering an onsite fitness center, a Weight Watchers reimbursement program, yoga classes, smoking cessation programs and personal trainers. And it works too, according to a LinkedIn article, Customer Representative Carla Minichello lost over 100 pounds after 18 months using the fitness center.


Wellness Programs and Improved Employee Retention

It’s much easier for a company to attract and retain top talent if it’s built a reputation for taking good care of its workforce. Offering outlets for health and wellbeing activities helps to maintain a positive, creative atmosphere that promotes both individual and company success, Dian Hol, director of HR at Roche, said in a recent interview with the Guardian. According to the article, wellness feeds into your company brand, makes for a nicer place to work and encourages employees to work as hard as possible.

It’s not just about the immediate health benefits, wellness programs also give employees the sense that their employer cares about them and supports them in ways outside of providing a paycheck every two weeks. One example would be law firm Sackers, which discourages “long-hours” culture by monitoring staff workloads. In addition, they offer free medicals to help prevent ailments that might lead to long-term sickness.

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Implementing Your Own Wellness Program

To be effective, wellness programs need to be well thought out and implemented correctly, using specific planning and research. First, an overall goal for the wellness program must be established. Companies must determine the level of involvement they wish to have in the program, establish a budget with an expected ROI and choose employee rewards. Before any of that can happen, if you aren’t the decision maker at your company, you must secure support from management. A good strategy for doing that is to conduct an organizational assessment to identify areas of opportunity for wellness improvement and show how much money could be saved in the long run. Obtaining employee input could potentially help when it comes to convincing management of the merits of wellness programs. It’s never going to be easy to convince a business owner to spend more money in a post-recession economy, but with enough research and the anecdotes and examples in this article, you can be a lot more persuasive.