When wellness programs started a few decades ago by some large employers, they were not taken very seriously, treated mostly as an unproven employee perk. They were considered a mere attempt to promote good health habits among employees.
That’s not the case any longer. Wellness plans are taken very seriously by employers, employees and the medical profession. Today, wellness plans, offered at hundreds of worksites, are a major tool to promote healthy behavior. According to Dr. Steve Aldana, “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.”
In fact, in his report, Dr. Aldana concludes that the total reach and impact of wellness plans are far superior to other initiatives to better the health of adults. He cites seven reasons why employers should offer wellness plans:
- They improve employee health behaviors. Most wellness studies show the employees have better health behaviors. In his most recent article, Dr. Aldana writes of participants: “They eat healthier foods, they eat smaller portions, they exercise more often, they smoke less, they don’t drink in excess, they wear seat belts more often, and they’re pretty good at controlling their stress.”
- They reduce high health risks. It was found in as little as six weeks; health risks were reduced. For example, health behavior could help with elevated blood glucose, high blood cholesterol, and high blood pressure. These are almost all caused by unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity.
- They reduce healthcare cost. This is a general statement depending on the effectiveness of individual wellness programs. Discussions over lunch about healthy lifestyles will not cut healthcare costs. “Comprehensive worksite wellness programs that improve employee behaviors will see a bending of the healthcare cost trend.” Most plans discovered that the savings from program participation will be greater than the actual cost of the program.
- They enhance productivity. Studies have found strong evidence that healthy behavior promotes productive behavior at work. Smokers were 28% more likely to have high presenteeism than non-smokers. Employees with an unhealthy diet were 66% more likely to have high presenteeism than those who regularly ate whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Employees who didn’t exercise very much were 50% more likely to have high presenteeism than employees who were regular exercisers.
- They reduce absenteeism. Harvard researchers looked at the ROI of wellness programs as they relate to absenteeism and demonstrated that for every dollar wellness programs spend on wellness, they can save $2.73 from reduced absenteeism.
- They improve employee recruitment and retention. There is not much data to support this conclusion other than anecdotal evidence from HR managers who report that wellness plans greatly improve employee loyalty which leads to higher retention rates.
- They enhance employee morale. Employees are happier because they are healthier. This has translated in many instances to a better, more positive company culture.