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The Advantages of Corporate Wellness Programs


What Are the Advantages of Corporate Wellness Programs?

How are you managing the health care costs at your company? If they seem overwhelming to you these days, you’re not alone. In the past ten years employer health coverage premiums increased by 119 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and other studies show that health care costs now absorb, on average, 50 percent of profits compared to 7 percent in 1980. Productivity losses related to personal and family health problems equal $1,685 per employee per year. What can you do to minimize health care expenses?

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A trend is emerging that may offer a solution. Large and small businesses are starting or expanding worksite wellness programs and finding that the advantages of corporate wellness programs far outweigh the costs. Studies prove that corporate wellness programs benefit both the employer and the employee’s long term health.

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The Advantages of Corporate Wellness Programs

Save money. A 2003 meta-review by LS Chapman of 42 published studies on the advantages of worksite health promotion programs found an: 1) average 28 percent reduction in sick leave absenteeism; 2) average 26 percent reduction in health costs; 3) average 30 percent reduction in workers’ compensation and disability management claims costs; and 4) average $5.93-to-$1 savings-to-cost ratio.

Improve productivity. Everybody has experienced afternoon fatigue. Yet, a NASA study proved exercisers work at full efficiency all day while non-exercising office workers’ productivity decreases 50 percent during the final two hours; this results in a corporate wellness program advantage of a 12.5 percent difference in productivity between the two groups. Healthier workers make fewer errors and don’t suffer as much from presenteeism, or coming to work although either sick or pre-occupied with non-work related issues. According to a Cigna Behavioral Health study, presenteeism costs an estimated $2,000 a year per employee.

Attract better talent. “Beyond cost savings and increased productivity, visionary employers are realizing the value of an employee’s total health. An effective worksite wellness program can attract exceptional employees, enhance morale and reduce organizational conflict,” said Mercedes Carnethon, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. A wellness program is typically defined as one designed to maintain or improve employee health before problems arise.

What Is the ROI for Worksite Wellness Programs?

In order to get a wellness program integrated into your workplace, it’s important that you can prove its profitability. And, doing so is easier than you think.

To get estimates on the potential return on investment (ROI) from an employee health promotion program or corporate wellness activities, companies are starting to use free online ROI calculators. These calculators use the company’s actual facts, such as health care costs and the percentage of employees who smoke and are obese, among other risk factors. Different scenarios can be inputted and saved. Here’s one developed by National Committee for Quality Assurance,

Moving Forward with Your Corporate Wellness Program

Once the decision is made to begin a workplace wellness program, the Human Resources department has to start figuring out the scope, direction, and implementation of the program. The websites for the Center for Disease Control and Partnership for Prevention provide good overviews of potential steps, tools, and what and who needs to be in place. The health needs of the employees and the budget will play a big role in determining where to invest time and money.

Some companies start with a number of corporate wellness programs and activities such as stress management workshops, subsidies for local gyms or Weight Watcher meetings, or other already identified needs by employees. Studies also show that readily available self-help materials are effective. Seventy-five percent of people who receive a self-care guide will use it at least one time within six months. Self-care programs may include workshops, nurse advice lines, software, and educational material. There is a surprising amount of free or low cost information and self-help material available online or via national and local health promotion associations.

You Know the Advantages of Corporate Wellness Programs, Now What?

Future columns will look at the steps to implementing a wellness program from initial health surveys to corporate wellness activities to evaluation with an emphasis on cost effective and proven strategies and programs. Other columns will highlight some successful workplace wellness program samples, popular wellness program components, and common obstacles faced in starting or maintaining a wellness program. Please provide suggestions on what other areas you would like to learn about or to share some other helpful resources in the comment area below.

Some How-to Resources

Center for Disease Control’s Healthier Website Initiative website is an excellent portal which provides a lot of free tool kits, program planning information, and resources.

For small business owners, Healthy Employees, Healthy Business: Easy, Affordable Ways to Promote Workplace Wellness, Ilona Gray, Nolo 2009. This book provides information on implementation steps, potential program components and a CD with planning worksheets and checklists.


Julia Freimund
My Work Oasis

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