By Teri Erhardt
The idea of an employee wellness program in the workplace is not new. Many organizations have been providing wellness for decades in various forms, such as biometric screenings, lunch-and-learn sessions, and even on-site fitness centers.
Yet, for the most part, wellness has largely resided in a silo: separate from discussions on organizational success, organized by a small group of volunteers, and offered as a “nice-to-have” employee benefit. Wellness has generally been disconnected from the greater picture of overall organizational health.
Recently, however, more organizations are shifting the way they think about wellness and acknowledging that employee well-being has a direct impact on organizational performance and, ultimately, the bottom line. As this happens, many are integrating wellness into their overall business strategy. A workplace that’s full of healthier, more balanced people is simply good for business, making wellness a “need-to-have” benefit.
A costly, vicious cycle
On average, people spend about 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime. That’s about one-third of their life! If that part of their life is unhealthy, filled with anxiety and stress, or not supportive of healthy behaviors, it’s likely that the other parts of their life are going to be unhealthy—producing a costly, vicious cycle.
One of the biggest health issues facing workplaces today is stress. Stress alone is costing U.S. businesses roughly $300 billion a year through accidents; absenteeism; turnover; diminished productivity; direct medical, legal, and insurance costs; and workers’ compensation insurance. Chronically stressed employees are costly.
Stress and other unhealthy lifestyle choices (such as smoking, a poor diet, and lack of physical activity) can be directly or indirectly linked to nearly every chronic disease, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Chronic diseases now account for nearly 80 percent of all health care costs, yet nearly all those chronic diseases are considered preventable.
The good news is that healthy lifestyles can be supported in the workplace to help employees reduce the risk of these costly diseases and, moreover, to thrive. When employees thrive, business succeeds. That’s where a good wellness program comes in.
Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, said this best: “Take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your business.” It’s hard to argue with a mogul who has played a role in producing hundreds of successful companies!
The value of wellness
Research shows that organizations that invest in their employees through strategically designed employee wellness programs create more vital employees and benefit beyond health care cost savings. Top benefits include:
- Reduced absenteeism.
- Increased productivity.
- Reduced worker’s comp claims.
- Improved employee morale.
- Reduced turnover.
- Increased employee engagement.
- Greater ability to attract and retain top talent.
A recent study by Willis Towers Watson found that organizations that encourage and improve workforce well-being are likely to be among the best-performing organizations. Approaches to well-being vary, but include aligning the work environment and well-being programs with the company culture, offering experiences that address various aspects of well-being, leveraging social networks, and adapting to new health care delivery systems such as telemedicine.
The best-performing organizations have a competitive advantage in the workplace and, according to the Willis Towers Watson research, also save more than $2,000 per employee per year in health care costs.
Regardless of an organization’s size, a business strategy that aligns organizational objectives with the health and well-being of employees can be designed to benefit everyone. Wondering where to begin?
The Seven Benchmarks by the Wellness Council of America can provide a good start. They are:
- Committed and aligned leadership. Without leaders on board at every level, including mid-management, efforts to create organizational impact are diluted and short-lived.
- Collaborative teams dedicated to building, supporting, and sustaining wellness initiatives.
- Collection and use of meaningful data to guide the process and measure success.
- Implementation of a plan to guide the investment in well-being.
- Initiatives chosen based on the organization’s objectives and its employees’ needs.
- Supportive, health-promoting environments, policies, and practices.
- Regular evaluations of the program to determine success and guide future efforts.
No longer is a wellness program a nice-to-have, extra benefit. Instead, a carefully designed and integrated wellness strategy is considered essential to long-term organizational success and can be accomplished with thoughtful planning and top-down support. With wellness, everyone wins!