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Healthy and Wealthy
5 steps to an employee wellness program that will generate real financial returns

At the risk of stating the obvious, healthy employees are good for business. They take fewer sick days, are less prone to workplace injuries, and reduce the strain on employee benefits like prescription drug plans.

Maybe there should be little surprise that one in five executives, as surveyed by Benefits Canada Magazine, plans to enhance employee health benefits with the help of preventive tools like workplace health and wellness programs.
Investments in these initiatives can deliver real financial returns for businesses of any size. What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs? – a 2010 study published by the Harvard Business Review – calculated that every dollar invested in employee wellness programs can generate $6 in healthcare savings. Participating employers also reported fewer days lost to sickness, lower workers’ compensation insurance premiums, and improved employee retention.

Some of the biggest companies in North America have reported positive experiences of their own. Johnson and Johnson saw a $2.71 return for every dollar invested in social, mental and physical health between 2002 and 2008. At Coors Brewing, absentee rates dropped 18% among employees who participated in a corporate wellness program. British Columbia Hydro employees who enrolled in a workplace fitness program turned over at a rate of 3.5%, compared to the corporate average of 10.3%.

But every initiative needs to start somewhere. Consider these five steps when developing a workplace wellness program of your own:

  1. Form a health and wellness committee – Every successful plan needs a champion. An internal group of employees can take ownership of a health and wellness program and will be able to promote advantages to their peers.

  2. Establish clear benchmarks – The only way to measure a return on the related investments is to start with a clear understanding of the current situation. Benchmarks can include factors like benefit plan premiums, drug costs, absenteeism, disability costs and workers’ compensation claims, the Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care advises in a recent report. Your benefits plan provider can help you dig even deeper, measuring issues such as disability claims per employee, the duration of claims, the top new claims by condition, and cost per employee. Recruiting costs might also be considered since many fitness-related activities help to build a sense of teamwork.

  3. Base programs on your unique needs – The focus of a specific program should be linked to health challenges observed in your workplace. A health and wellness committee that identifies a problem with obesity, for example, might decide to introduce nutrition classes and exercise programs. After all, weight loss has been known to reduce the risk of everything from heart disease to Type 2 diabetes.

  4. Adopt a healthy culture – Spreading information is only the beginning. Companies can support a commitment to healthy eating by offering nutritious food in the lunch room and keeping doughnuts off the boardroom table. Investments in fitness classes or memberships in a local gym can also be backed by flexible work schedules which give employees the chance to exercise. The habits should even continue during road trips. (Hey, you never know who your workout partners might be. During one recent trip, I ended up sharing a hotel’s workout area with country music sensation Keith Urban … and I have the autograph to prove it!)
  5. Spread the word – Employees need to know the details of programs available to them, and understand the role these programs play in controlling the cost of their benefits plans. But this isn’t always the case. The 2011 Buffet National Wellness Survey found that three in four organizations offer wellness programs to their employees. In contrast, the 2011 sanofiaventis Healthcare Survey discovered that just one in four employees say their employers provide some sort of wellness programming.

Top Tips:

  • Establish a wellness committee to champion your workplace wellness program and engage employees.
  • Take a close look at your workplace to target specific health-related issues that could be improved.
  • Establish benchmarks including factors like absentee rates, disability costs, and workers’ compensation claims, and measure the improvements over time.

The Buzz Bits
Miscellaneous links to interesting benefits information

2011 Buffet National Wellness Survey

2011 sanofi-aventis Healthcare Survey

Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care report

What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs?

Community Ethics, Big City Expertise

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