Human Capital & Careers

Wellness Programs Work if Properly Designed

Those that are unsuccessful may fail to determine the program's benchmarks, goals, and vision.
Michael BoothJune 3, 2015

Employee “wellness” (or well-being) has become quite the buzzword in workplaces. Smoking cessation courses, company fitbit competitions, yoga rooms — even “mindfulness” programs, which promote activities such as meditation, are being implemented in corporate settings.

Michael Booth

Michael Booth

While you can’t place a dollar value on personal well-being, there are documented costs associated with absenteeism, insurance claims, and turnover from employee disengagement and burnout. A properly designed and implemented wellness programs addresses and reduces many of these high-cost line items for corporations and therefore may yield a positive ROI.

Some argue against wellness programs because there are companies that have implemented them but have not achieved a meaningful ROI. While that is true, it is generally not the wellness program itself that is inadequate, but the way the program is rolled out. Sometimes organizations simply fail to determine benchmarks, goals, and the vision for their wellness program. Just as the best-performing companies are guided by a strong mission statement, wellness programs should be guided by goals from all of those involved and not haphazardly pieced together.

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Once you get the right metrics in place, research shows that there is a bottom-line benefit to be gained from properly implementing a wellness culture. In the study Workplace Wellness Programs Can Generate Savings conducted by professors at Harvard University, the cost/benefits ratio showed the savings from health promotion programs are much greater than their cost. Medical cost savings averaged $3.27 per dollar invested, and absenteeism savings averaged $2.73 per dollar invested.

And companies that focus on implementing preventative wellness programs can save as much as $4.50 for every dollar invested. Such was true in a case study of the health management program at Citibank. Furthermore, companies that were identified in a Towers Watson study as “highly effective” in rolling out wellness programs are saving up to $1,600 per employee per year in health-care costs.

Aside from saving on insurance claims from a physically healthy workforce, there are other factors that can lead to employees being disengaged and absent that can be costly. Stress management is a real challenge for today’s workforce, and elements such as financial and mental well-being play a large role in that. Employers can alleviate some of these stress triggers by providing avenues for employees to seek assistance when needed. This can be done through employee-assistance programs that can offer benefits such as free counseling and even financial literacy programs. If you take care of your greatest asset, your employees, through a comprehensive and well-designed wellness program, they will take care of business.

So how can you ensure that your wellness program is properly designed? There are a few guidelines that every organization should follow when creating a wellness program:

Have a mission/goals. You can’t measure success if you haven’t decided what qualifies as success.

Start with building a foundation. Without a strong foundation and support from upper management, the program will not become an integral part of the organizational culture and will fail to fully engage employees.

Be strategic. Take into account the unique needs of your workforce and don’t implement costly programs that employees don’t want or need. Give them a voice in creating the wellness tactics.

Be comprehensive. Remember, your employees’ wellness is made up of more than just physical health. Financial, mental, and emotional well-being all play a large role in a productive workforce.

Michael Booth is president of Axion RMS, a risk management company that consults with CFOs on their benefits packages and business growth.