Sue Parks – Why a strong wellness program will save your business more than money

I went to a talk on corporate wellness the other day. The speaker was a physician who had led the corporate wellness efforts for a large company. The organization spent $150 million annually on health benefits for its employees. She asked for $400,000 to run a wellness program. The powers-that-be only asked about and challenged the $400,000. No one questioned the $150 million.

Crazy, right? Welcome to my world.

Most people in the room add the $400,000 to the $150 million and look at it as an expenditure of $150.4 million. That is the wrong math. The return on a well-run wellness program is normally a 6-to-1 ratio. Thus, $2.4 million or more could have been saved with the $400,000 investment.

We just kicked off a program with a new client with 500 employees. The cost of two lifestyle driven health issues, obesity and stress, impacted the bottom line last year to the tune of about $7.5 million. This was due to absenteeism, presenteeism (being at work, but mentally not being there), incremental medical claims and increased prescription drugs to deal with just those two lifestyle issues.

The CEO understood this and realized the need to build a culture of wellness in their company. And, he realized that it started with him.


Make a healthy investment

Most executives never hesitate to make an investment in a new piece of equipment or a new technology if they feel it will help their bottom line. But often, company leaders feel wellness is “soft” and not measurable. That is not the case.

Think about one employee with Type II diabetes linked to obesity and the additional costs. Think of the extra prescriptions they get, the couple of extra specialists they see a year, the couple of extra days they are sick each year, the amount of time they spend at work surfing the Internet to learn more about their disease, the increased potential of a worker’s compensation claim by lifting too much, and so on.

You’ve invested in employees. They do a good job for you. Help them get healthier. By doing so, they will be more productive and happier, saving on your bottom line.

Let me tell you about Joe. He stopped at fast food restaurants every night on his way home from work. This was a snack prior to his dinner. Joe spent on average $5 a night, five nights a week, thus, equaling $1,300 a year. Joe was a Type II diabetic and his out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions and medical co-pays equaled an additional $2,000 a year.

Joe got engaged with the corporate wellness program we lead at his company. Joe started walking and stopped having the extra meal each night. Joe is finally able to stop taking his medications and has lost 200 pounds. Between just the prescriptions and extra meal, he is personally saving $3,300 a year. 

At that rate, Joe will personally save $49,500 over the next 15 years. Now, he’s confident that in about 15 years, he will be alive to walk his daughter down the aisle and be able to pay for it. The value of that? Priceless.

By subtracting unhealthy expenses you can add to your bottom line. And, your employees will be much happier with their new bottom line, too!


Sue Parks, a former top-level executive with USWest, Gateway and Kinkos, is a corporate wellness expert. She is the founder and CEO of WalkStyles Inc., based in Irvine, Calif., and co-author of “iCount, 10 Simple Steps to a Healthy Life.” For more information, visit