Everyone supports the idea of a fit and healthy staff. Healthy workers have lower absenteeism rates and, in the long run, it’s cheaper to insure a healthy staff. So, it’s only fitting that management supports an effective wellness program in the work-place, says Doug Ribley, vice president of health and wellness services at the Akron General Health and Wellness Centers.
However, needs will vary depending on the business program requirements for workers doing heavy lifting will be different than those at a sedentary computer center.
Smart Business spoke with Ribley about ways to develop effective health and wellness programs in the workplace.
How do you define the specific needs for a health and wellness program?
Corporate health and wellness programs are unique to each organization based on employer objectives, budget and specific health risks associated with the employee population. Employer based health and wellness initiatives typically include the following components: assessment/screening, health education, physical activity, workplace safety/ergonomics, healthy nutritional options, recognition/accountability, and executive physicals. Many organizations offer a subset of these programs. However, the most effective programs are comprehensive in nature and require a total commitment.
What does a program cost?
A program with basic screening and health education will cost a few thousand dollars. A comprehensive, all-inclusive (and effective) program, with on- or off-site health and fitness centers and staff, can run into the six-figure range. However, the more significant the program, the greater the return. It has been documented through numerous case studies that a healthy work force directly correlates to a healthy bottom line. It is also important to note that any level of corporate commitment is better than no commitment at all.
What are the space requirements?
It’s dependent on the program objectives; however, a meeting space is appropriate for screenings and health education. This space can be used for group exercise classes, as well. Although creative design can have a significant impact on space requirements related to an on-site health and fitness center, typically center size requirements range between 5 to 10 square feet per participant.
How do you make it convenient for everyone?
When planning an employee health initiative, it is fairly obvious that the greater the participation, the better the outcome. For this reason, it is important to consider all participation factors with an emphasis on convenience. If a program is not offered at a convenient time or location, it is likely that the desired outcome will not be realized. Programs need to be offered during all shifts, and facilities need to be readily accessible.
Should incentives be put into place?
The most effective employee health initiatives put as much emphasis on recognition and incentives as they do on the actual program design and delivery. Since a health risk appraisal and physical assessment is critically important to creating an organizational base line, many organizations will offer a gift or cash payment when employees complete this assignment. Additionally, since physical activity plays such a significant role related to chronic disease and risk factor reduction, many organizations will make internal or external health and fitness facilities available to their employees and actually provide 100 percent reimbursement directly to the employee if he or she achieves certain participation goals, such as completing an exercise program a minimum of 12 times per month.
How do you assure accountability?
This is accomplished much like accountability is established within business units and/or departments. A professional staff should accurately and regularly monitor program goals, progress toward the goals and participation. This should be looked at organization-wide through the accumulation of aggregate data and with employee approval. Individual results can be reviewed and discussed with specific employees, as well.
What is a reasonable time frame for ROI?
The greatest challenge related to employee health initiatives is that the ROI is realized after effort and resources are invested over a varied period of time. This is not a ‘quick fix.’ We know that regular participation in employee health and wellness programming will produce improved morale, improved retention, reduced absenteeism, reduced onthe-job injuries and a reduction in health care costs, to name a few. A company can expect a $3 return on investment for every $1 invested. The reality is that this return will require a steady, committed and focused effort over time with the financial return being recognized after two to three years.
How do you measure success?
It is important to track program statistics related to morale, retention, absenteeism, injuries and cost reductions and compare to preprogram figures. It is clear that health initiatives work but only for organizations that embrace the approach, create the culture and stay committed for the long haul.
DOUG RIBLEY is vice president of health and wellness services at the Akron General Health and Wellness Centers. Reach him at email@example.com.