By Jason Barbour
While most corporations have embraced wellness programs, many struggle to see a direct impact on the company’s bottom line. A recent Gallup poll determined that only 24 percent of employees provided with a corporate wellness program tend to participate. After corporate wellness programs like PepsiCo’s proved unlikely to save the employer funds, business leaders may be hesitant to enact programs of their own.
Done properly, these programs can truly benefit both employers and employees. Obese employees cost an average of more than $4,000 more per year in healthcare costs than those of average weight, and while health program incentives like screenings are great in theory, they don’t often come with effective preventive plans of action.
If you don’t take the time to formulate an effective corporate wellness program, not only do you risk spending more on unhealthy employees, but you also risk a significant drop in productivity. Seventy-seven percent of productivity loss is health-related, and it costs employers two to three times more than annual healthcare expenses. A company made up of 1,000 employees failing to operate at their full potential on a given day could be disastrous.
What’s hindering wellness programs?
The first main cause of ineffective wellness programs is a lack of appropriate spend. The average $50-$150 spent annually on employee wellness per employee is not nearly enough. When you consider the cost of health-related loss of productivity, combined with the 27 percent decrease in absenteeism and the 25 percent increase in performance for healthy employees, it’s surprising that companies don’t spend more on these programs. Furthermore, the money they do spend is usually allocated incorrectly.
The second factor holding back most wellness programs is the lack of onsite integration. Wellness can and should be ingrained in company culture. Employees spend as much time with their “work family” as they do with their actual families. Giving people the opportunity to exercise together on the clock or to sit down and share a healthy lunch increases the likelihood that they’ll continuously make these healthy choices.
Creating a program that works
In large cities where employees live far apart, it’s unlikely they will meet up after work to go to a gym. Screenings and pamphlets are ineffective. Luckily, there are ways to ensure you’re implementing a corporate wellness program with a real return on investment:
1. Integrate healthy living on-site Encouraging healthy camaraderie with an onsite company gym or prepared healthy meals works amazingly well — and there are options for similar offerings across a range of company budgets. Can’t afford to build an onsite gym? Bring in a trainer for an outdoor boot camp class. No money for catering healthy food? Work with a healthy meal delivery company to establish corporate discounts for your employees. And management participation in these health initiatives is imperative. Results are contagious — if you want employees to follow suit, you must lead by example and encourage people to participate.
2. Set your program up for success Picking strategies that will actually work is the surest way to get employees to participate. A return on investment won’t exist without participation, so management will need to do the research, have an open mind, and be willing to work a little harder to find solutions for its employees.
Hiring a corporate wellness manager with a proven record of success would be extremely beneficial to help you stay organized and be creative with your budget. It’s easy to buy 500 gym memberships, but getting 500 people to use them is more complicated. A corporate wellness manager can also help with creative onsite initiatives, like running groups or competitions, to increase participation.
3. Reward good results rather than penalize failure Health screenings, healthful eating, and exercising are, unfortunately, outside many people’s comfort zones. Couple that with a fine for failing to hit wellness goals, and you’re going to get major pushback. Try recognizing wellness program standouts in the company newsletter, or provide perks such as cash rewards or an extra paid day off. That sets a much better tone and only increases the likelihood of participation.
Rewarding employees really comes down to finding out what makes them “tick.” Poll them to determine what motivates them. While material incentives are nice, a sincere “good job” from management is even more important. Sharing the success of individuals and the program itself with employees on a regular basis creates buzz around the program and improves participation.
Although most corporations have wellness programs in place, they may not be realizing the full potential of a healthy workplace. With the right amount of spend and dedication, an effective corporate wellness program doesn’t have to be out of reach.
Jason Barbour is a highly sought-after strength and nutritional consultant for busy executives and has worked with professional athletes from the NFL, NHL, and UFC, including three world champions and an Olympic medalist. In 2009, Jason started Metabolic Meals, one of the country’s largest healthy meal delivery companies with thousands of customers nationwide.
Image credit: Alexandra Lehmann, Flickr
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