How an effective wellness program can benefit your employees and the company

It’s no secret that health care is a hot topic. But putting aside the politics of the issue, there are two things that can’t be argued: health care costs are constantly on the rise and people’s health is constantly on the decline.

An unhealthy work force is an unproductive work force. If your people aren’t as healthy as they can or should be, you’ll face absenteeism, decreased job performance and lower morale, just to name a few.

Luckily, there are ways to both lower health care costs and improve the health of your people: successful wellness programs.

“Companies have a great opportunity to impact their employees’ lives and really make a difference,” says Cecelia Wagoner, the executive director of Corporate & Community Health for WellStar Health System. “People spend a large amount of their time at work. A good wellness program can improve the quality of life for your employees and their families.”

Smart Business spoke with Wagoner about wellness programs, how to implement them and how to drive employee engagement.

What should an employer expect when starting a wellness program?

Expect a lot of hard work. Implementing a wellness program takes a lot of time, effort and commitment. Develop a solid plan so you’re ready every step of the way. Know exactly what you’re taking on, be prepared and have the right mindset. Wellness programs are more than just nice ways to help your employees; they are true business strategies, so adopt them as part of your culture.

Also, don’t expect an immediate return on investment. Improved morale and engagement could happen right away, but it will take time to see true results in terms of reduced absenteeism and health care costs. But stick with it — the ROI will come.

How do you develop a successful program?

First, make sure you have complete buy-in from all levels of senior management. You’ve got to walk the talk throughout the organization. Show your employees that the company cares about them and wants to help better their lives.

Once management is on board, identify a wellness coordinator or advocate who will own the program. Or, if your company is large enough, you can have a wellness team that will promote healthy living. Either way, you need a clear and consistent message.

Next, solicit employee feedback. Find out what is important to employees. What health risks are they worried about? What types of programs would interest them? Involve all employees, deal with all major health risks and offer choices.

You’ll also want to conduct health screenings and surveys as well as testing for things such as blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose and body weight. A Health Risk Appraisal (HRA), an assessment tool that looks at an individual’s family history, health status and lifestyle, should also be used. An HRA can identify the precursors associated with serious illness and quantify the probable impact for each individual. It also will tell you about the fitness levels of your employees.

If you want to get people to change, you must educate, motivate and give them the tools to meet their goals. Educating employees on the health risks they face and showing them how they can prevent those risks is a great beginning step.