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Trend: Wellness Programs Enhance Employee Engagement

By Cornelia Gamlem
What are wellness programs and why do many organizations offer them to their employees?

Traditional wellness programs include nutrition and weight control, smoking cessation, fitness and stress reduction. Companies have found that these programs provide a significant return on investment, for the employer, the employee and their families.

Johnson & Johnson, a leader in wellness programs, offers a $150 benefits bonus to overweight employees who reduce their body mass index by 10 percent. Its wellness program slowed the rate of increase of healthcare costs by $565 per employee. Citibank debuted a wellness program in 2008 and found that every dollar spent on wellness returns $2 to the company!

Wellness programs can be simple or they can be as complex as your organization desires. An easy way to get started is to sponsor flu shots or other vaccination clinics at your workplace. Work with your local fitness center to offer reduced rates. Offer on-site health screenings. Bring in nutritionists to talk about how to eat healthy. Bring in speakers to talk about stress reducing techniques in the workplace. Your Employee Assistance Program can help with the last two suggestions.

Interestingly, many organizations are turning to an old Buddhist tradition called mindfulness as a path toward stress reduction. Our modern world is filled with distractions – gadgets, electronics, texting, emails, calls – which almost seek instantaneous responses and multiple demands for our attention. Workers feel compelled to multitask.

Mindfulness is a state of open, active and nonjudgmental attentiveness to the present. It’s an awareness of moment to moment experiences. Companies such as Google, Target and General Mills are offering courses in meditation and mindfulness to their employees. Business schools, such as Claremont Graduate University and Harvard Business School are also teaching students about mindfulness.

Effective leaders and employees need to pay attention to what’s happening around them. Good decision-making requires focus, clarity and calm. In addition to reducing stress, employers who offer mindfulness training are finding that employees are more focused and productive.

There is also evidence that job satisfaction increases while levels of emotional exhaustion decreases.

Mindfulness can be as simple as following your breath – breathe deeply from your belly or lower lungs and follow your breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Listening to music – any type of slow-tempo music to feel calming effects – is another easy technique. Observing your thoughts, rather than becoming involved in the moment, might be calming for you.

Before you start any type of wellness program in your organization, consider:

  • What are the goals of your wellness program?

  • How involved does the organization want to be in the health of your employees?

  • What is your budget?

  • What is your desired return on investment?

  • Will you offer rewards?

  • What will your wellness policy be and who is responsible for administering the program?

As you put your program together, be sure to involve your employees and their families. This can have a significant impact on reducing healthcare costs for them and for your organization.

A well-managed wellness program can have impact on employee recruitment, engagement, and retention. When employees feel that their employer cares about them as individuals, they tend to be more productive and to want stay where they are valued.

To ensure that your program remains funded, it's important to measure the benefits. Here are some metrics to consider using when judging the benefits of a wellness program:

  • Has the number of sick days declined?

  • Has the number of healthcare claims declined?

  • Has productivity increased?

  • Has workplace stress declined?

  • Are your employees more physically fit?

  • Has the use of tobacco declined?

  • Have workplace injuries declined?

  • Has employee engagement increased?

  • Has your wellness program been well-received when recruiting new employees?

  • Has your retention increased?
Cornelia Gamlem is Coauthor of The Big Book of HR and a Human Resources consultant.
3p Contributor

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