Researchers have estimated that preventable illnesses make up approximately 70 percent of the burden of illness and associated costs. We spend more annually on health care than any other country and, for many companies, health insurance is the second highest expense following employees’ salaries.
“Employers continually ask what can be done to control health care costs,” says Amy Broadbent, a senior consultant with JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice. “One solution is work-place wellness programs.”
Smart Business talked with Broadbent about this latest movement in employee benefits programs.
What is a workplace wellness program?
A good wellness program ultimately creates a healthy employee culture while having fun in the process. Sharing information, offering contest-oriented programs, implementing a wellness committee and senior management participation are crucial components of a successful program.
Some examples of a healthy employee environment include replacing the candy dish with a fresh fruit bowl, starting a lunch-time walking program, and covering the cost of nicotine replacement therapies for smoking cessation participants.
Offering a variety of programs means there is likely to be something for everyone.
Can a wellness program really make a difference?
The greater goal of any wellness program is to educate and encourage employees to obtain age-appropriate preventive care. Most benefits plans provide for this care, but employees do not realize what care should be received and when. Some employers offer paid time off to encourage employees to have the appropriate physician’s visits. Catching a medical condition in the early stages is obviously good for employee well-being, but it also reduces significant health care liabilities for the employer.
Is it difficult to get employees to participate in wellness?
Wellness programs discourage behaviors that are detrimental to good health. Because lifestyle behaviors are deeply engrained, making changes can be difficult. Educating employees about the benefits of positive lifestyle changes is an important first step. It often takes strong motivational forces to get employees to take action. Incentives are widely used in health promotion programs because they increase impact.
What kinds of incentives can be offered to employees?
Typical incentive rewards are cash, vacation days, and prizes or reduced employee contributions toward the company-sponsored health care program. An incentive should be significant enough in value to give participants a reason to change.
What ROI can employers expect from wellness programs?
Employers are likely to see real savings in the form of improved employee health, reduced absenteeism, and fewer disability and workers’ compensation claims. But be patient: most programs take several years to develop a measurable ROI. Wellness programs should be viewed as a long-term commitment, with not only positive financial results but also marked improvement in employee morale and productivity.
How many employers have caught the wellness wave?
Thirty percent of U.S. employers currently offer some type of wellness program that promotes healthy lifestyles, and another 30 percent plan to offer this type of program within the next three years. Studies show that employers who have already introduced wellness programs are reporting lower health care costs, less employee absenteeism and greater employee job satisfaction.
THE COST OF “UN-WELLNESS”
Estimates show that unhealthy lifestyles lead to hundreds of billions of dollars in expenses annually in the United States.
Source: Health Promotion Advocates, from statistics kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and the Journal of Occupational Medicine.
AMY BROADBENT is a senior consultant with JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice. Reach her at Amy.Broadbent@JRGAdvisors.net or (412) 456-7250.