An employee wellness program is any corporate-sponsored program designed to help employees eat better, lose weight and improve their overall physical and mental health in an effort to reduce medical costs and increase employee productivity and morale. Employee wellness programs are not a new idea, and, in fact, most companies offer at least one. According to SHRM’s 2019 Employee Benefits Survey, 64% of employers provide wellness resources and information, and 58% of organizations offer wellness programs in general. While these programs can certainly cost money, many don’t with the time spent planning and executing them the main outlay of resources. The Harvard Business Review found that employers who invested in comprehensive health and wellness initiatives saw a nearly 3-to-1 return in money saved. Still wondering what your company has to gain by implementing an employee wellness program? You might actually want to consider what’s to lose.
According to the most recent Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data, adult obesity rates now exceed 35% in nine states, 30% in 31 states and 25% in 48 states. It’s widely known obesity has been linked to a host of serious diseases and health conditions including stroke, coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and depression. Wellness programs that focus on diet, nutrition and exercise may help curb obesity and can be fairly simple to implement. Consider your next monthly staff meeting lunch. Why not replace high in saturated fat foods like potato chips and pepperoni pizza with a black bean and mango salad and roasted chicken caprese sandwiches? Most restaurants and caterers offer many appealing healthy options. Healthy vending machine options are popping up all over with the industry experiencing a surge in consumer interest in “good for you” snacks. HealthyYou Vending, a nutritional distribution platform dedicated to making healthy snacks, drinks and food products for vending distribution, offers over 2,500 healthy vending product options from which to choose.
Your health insurance provider is an excellent resource for weight loss wellness programs for your employees at no additional cost to eligible plan participants. UnitedHealthcare offers several employee wellness programs including Motion and Real Appeal. Motion motivates employees to walk more with various reward incentives like deposits into their health reimbursement account (HRA) or health savings account (HSA) that can be used to pay for health care expenses and an activity tracker. Real Appeal is a year-long, evidence-based virtual weight loss program that teaches employees how to eat healthier, be active and achieve their weight loss goals.
Geico’s employee wellness program focusing on weight loss had impressive results for its 300 participant employees. In an 18-week study, Geico provided low-fat vegetarian meals in workplace cafeterias including legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Employees attended weekly cooking classes and information sessions to learn about the benefits of a plant-based diet. Employees even had access to dieticians and went on grocery store tours to learn where to find the best produce. The Geico employees lost an average of 10 pounds (some lost as much as 40 pounds), lowered their LDL cholesterol by 13 points and experienced improved blood-sugar control. Participants claimed improvements in productivity and experienced a decrease in anxiety, depression and fatigue. Way to gecko, Geico!
Workplace fitness challenges are a fun way to promote employee engagement while reaping the benefits of physical activity and improved overall health and weight loss. For the tech savvy company, there are mobile apps designed specifically for this. If a more traditional approach is preferred, a quick Google search returns creative ideas from a “Maintain Don’t Gain” challenge around the holidays to a “Walk the Plank” challenge centered on either walking or holding a plank for incrementally longer times each day. These challenges should not be mandated, and to ensure employee buy in, a voluntary employee task force can be assembled to brainstorm ideas and organize the activities. Take a bite out of the obesity crisis instead of that doughnut!
With workplace stress accounting for $190 billion in U.S. health costs each year, companies have a strong incentive to implement initiatives to reduce employee stress. Having access to any type of wellness program alone can reduce employee stress, and alleviating stress can be the focus of an employee wellness program. Mind-body wellness practices like yoga, meditation and mindfulness are popular ways to reduce stress. There may be employees at your company who would voluntarily lead yoga classes before or after work. You would only need to find a spot to accommodate the class. There are meditation apps galore. You could include an article in your next company newsletter listing popular ones and encouraging employees to use them during times of high stress or during lunch or other breaks. Stop stressing about how stress is affecting your employees and provide them resources to fight it.
Lose Unhealthy Habits
Whether it’s overspending, smoking, gambling, vaping, hoarding, cybershopping or drinking too much alcohol, we all likely have unhealthy habits. A wellness program centered on education and effective coping strategies can help your employees manage and, hopefully, minimize their unhealthy habits. UnitedHealthcare provides its eligible plan members access to Quit For Life, a tobacco cessation program offered in collaboration with the American Cancer Society. The program combines digital and telephonic tools and resources, along with physical, psychological and behavioral strategies to help employees overcome their tobacco addiction.
Lose Medical Expenses
By warding off health problems or lowering their incidence among employees, organizations can save on long-term health costs. In a study done on the return on investment of employee wellness programs, Harvard researchers conclude that, on average, for every dollar spent on employee wellness, medical costs fall $3.27. That’s significant. Almost all health insurance companies offer employee wellness programs to eligible plan participants. Aetna offers a core package for fully insured plans that includes for eligible plan participants online health assessment and coaching programs, a 24/7 health line staffed by registered nurses and member discounts for nutritional, fitness, natural therapy and weight management products and services. For a fee, employers can obtain a premier package that includes individual healthy lifestyle coaching for members and onsite biometric screenings. Most health insurance companies offer free flu shots when using an in-network provider and some will even arrange free flu shots clinic onsite in your workplace. Check out your health insurer’s website to see what’s available to you.
Let’s not forget the importance of financial health in a holistic approach to employee wellness. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) found that 71% of employees say their top source of stress is personal finances. This stress has a negative effect on productivity, according to SHRM studies and many others. Financial wellness programs seek to provide financial wellness which PwC, a global accounting firm, defines as freedom from financial stress, debt, and worry about unexpected expenses and the freedom to make choices fueled by finances that support them. A well-designed employee financial wellness program can help bolster productivity because employees aren’t distracted by financial worries. There are hundreds of financial wellness vendors from which to choose that can provide financial counseling and education to employees on retirement plans to reducing debt to planning for college tuition.
Wellness Programs and Federal Regulations
Whether you currently have a wellness program in place, or are considering implementing one, you should be aware of federal laws, such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA) that could impact your wellness program and its administration. Be on the lookout for a Smart HR blog in the new year specifically addressing wellness programs and compliance with these laws.
Are You Seeking More Information About Employee Wellness Programs?
Employee wellness programs are not one-size-fits-all. Care should be given to identifying programs that fit in an organization’s culture and achieve the desired outcome, whether it is improved employee morale, increased productivity, increased retention or reducing health expenses among others. Smart HR can play a key role in designing and managing your workplace wellness program by assessing wellness program options, providing guidance on advocating for the establishment of a program to achieve strategic objectives, developing employee communications about the program components to encourage and increase participation, evaluating the effectiveness of and making suggestions for improvements to existing programs and providing guidance to ensure your plan is in compliance with applicable employment laws. Call Smart HR today for more information. After all, what do you have to lose? Actually, a lot!