An employee wellness program isn't a superficial thing. It's a tool that brings a variety of benefits and can indirectly increase the company's revenue. We squeezed over a dozen research papers into one article to highlight the main reasons to design and implement a corporate wellness program, and better understand what results a company can expect.
It's important to note that most of the facts are applied to the effective corporate programs. If a program lacks one or more of the essential attributes and isn't coherent with the employees' goal, then there is a chance it will show other results.
Corporate wellness solutions include all company-sponsored activities intended to improve the health and well-being of the employees. A wellness program can address one, two, or all dimensions of the wellness: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, environmental, behavioral, intellectual, financial, or occupational spheres of life. The wellness program objectives determine the exact composition of a program and undertaken actions. That's why the first step is always goal setting and primary screening of the employees and the health culture of the company.
Overall, there is no list of criteria that define wellness programs. But wellness plans that show significant positive changes usually include tobacco cessation and prevention programs, fitness initiatives, stress management and reduction, early detection and screenings, nutrition education and promotion, weight management, disease management. It requires the allocation of resources and staff time but brings several benefits in return.
The paybacks of wellness solutions and all the efforts can be measured in a variety of ways. All the benefits of workplace wellness programs fall into different categories: health-related, financial, team performance, and team culture. But all of them are interconnected, and always one grows out of the other. Nevertheless, it all starts with health and healthy behavioral changes.
First and foremost, with the introduction of a corporate wellness program, employees are getting healthier. That's a significant result. Then it starts a domino effect of other benefits both for the employee and the employer.
Wellness solutions usually address one or more of the top factors related to health loss: dietary risks, smoking, high body mass index, and lack of physical activity. The professional approach to the problem demonstrates results in the first year. Here are some corporate wellness program examples and the results they bring.
Weight Loss Programs
Corporate weight loss solutions are good examples of what changes can a corporate approach bring. Excessive weight and high body mass index are a common concern for the employers because obesity is related to the number of chronic diseases, higher risks of injuries, and other health-related problems. In general, obese employees cause up to 21% higher health care costs compared with those of recommended weight. It also has indirect effects on the higher rate of absenteeism and productivity losses. That's the primary driver to provide some kind of weight loss options.
The composition of the program can range from fitness training, dietitian counselling, nutritionist educational content, access to the online platforms, to a contest among the colleagues. Studies show that work-based wellness programs reduce the number of overweight or obese employees by almost 9 per cent. And the results of the program are especially effective if an employee isn't restricted to one-time participation. Weight loss and maintenance is an ongoing process, so the program should be continuous too.
The introduction of the weight loss program triggers employees to change the perception of health and realize the importance of wellness. That's why studies show that even if an employee didn't achieve significant weight loss results, he/she still improves health and quality of life and shows a reduction of the health costs. An employee also brings those changes to the family. Annual savings per participant, including employees, spouses, and dependents, are $838, and $876, for employee participants only.
Corporate programs are showing the results because of the emotional support that employees provide to each other. Also, workplace programs are more structured and comprehensive than personal attempts to lose weight. But companies should be careful and better seek professional assistance so that the corporate weight loss programs weren't stigmatizing people with weight issues.
Smoking Cessation Programs
Smoking is associated with severe health dangers and productivity losses. Exposure to secondhand smoke contributes to the development of cancer and other health-related problems. Besides, smoking employees show a higher rate of absenteeism, presenteeism, number of work breaks, and overall work impairment.
The tobacco ban at the workplace isn't a good solution. Like any other restriction, it can cause tension in employee-employer relationships. An alternative path to alleviate the risks is a corporate smoking cessation program. Programs may include a series of seminars, nicotine replacement therapy, behavioral support.
Within the first couple of months after quitting, employees experience improvement in lung function, less coughing, and shortness of breath improved blood circulation. With time no-longer smoking employees will significantly lower the risks of lifestyle diseases. In 5 year period, cutting the smoking prevalence just by 5 per cent, an employer will result in considerably fewer hospitalizations for acute myocardial infarction, stroke, and fewer deaths.
Wellness programs help not only to deal with the conditions that potentially can lead to chronic diseases, but also help to avoid further development of lifestyle diseases, reduce the use of health care services, and prevent avoidable complications.
Photo Credit: Unsplash
A comprehensive wellness program usually includes disease management to the spectrum of services and options. It's more narrowly focused actions targeted to assist and improve the quality of care for those already dealing with chronic diseases. A disease management program may include onsite medical checks, partnerships with health and wellness companies, diabetes management programs, educational initiatives to help the employee better manage and control the health.
A corporate approach is useful since all chronic diseases require changes in thinking, behavior, management of daily activities, and constant self-management. People spent the majority of their time at work. Dealing with a chronic disease at work environment that's not supportive of the efforts can be difficult and stressful.
For example, lifestyle and disease management programs may focus on employees with diabetes, including high-risk cases, early stages of diabetes, or employees with pre-diabetes. A company can aim attention at prevention and coaching, create a supportive environment, coordinate corporate diabetes control efforts to make employees more accountable. An employer can encourage lifestyle changes that are often needed in cases of diabetes.
Also, wellness programs usually address several risk factors at once. Success in one of the field encourages employees to keep on going and build more healthy habits. For example, a company providing fitness solutions will also see results in a lower number of smokers. Regular physical activity tends to reduce and prevent unhealthy behaviors like smoking, tobacco cravings, and alcohol use.
One of the benefits of wellness programs is the improvement of the mental state. Employees are under constant pressure to meet tight deadlines, achieve KPIs, come up with new ideas and solutions, meet new people, and hold meetings. That's why work-related stress is named as the leading workplace health problem, ranking above physical inactivity and obesity.
Photo Credit: Unsplash
The survey shows that workplace stress and anxiety affect performance and quality of work, relationships with coworkers, and top management. As a result, a company sees an increased number of burnouts, onsite violence cases, and conflicts. And fear to be stigmatized rather than getting help further increases the level of stress and tension in the work environment. Work-related stress carries over with employees to their personal life and affects their relationships. That's why the costs of doing nothing is too high.
The benefits of wellness programs include improved internal and external communication, relationship with colleagues and management, healthier environment. The mental health of the team has a profound impact on performance at customer-facing companies, as it improves the employee-customer relationship.
One of the compelling employee wellness program examples is a program of the Virgin company. It's a comprehensive suite of online and offline services and tools including:
This may seem over-complicated and extra. But the World Health Organization estimated that for every $1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity.
List of positive changes regular exercise can bring includes the reduction of the symptoms of ADHD and improved concentration. By doing different exercises, we encourage our brain to release several essential chemicals like endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. All of those components affect focus and attention. People with ADHD often have less dopamine than people without the condition. Exercise works in many ways the same as stimulant drugs.
The introduction of a workplace wellness program is a significant investment in money and staff time. But what it brings in return is the reduction of healthcare costs, which is more significant than the cost of the program.
Health care costs can be either cut or prevented. As fewer employees fall into the high-risk category, there is a drop in hospital admissions and healthcare utilization. Hence, insurance and other health-related costs are lower. For example, disease management is responsible for 87% of the employer's average health care costs. But every dollar invested into the corporate disease management programs gives a $3.80 return. That's the highest rate out of all components of the wellness programs.
Photo Credit: Unsplash
Then, according to statistics, 70 per cent of healthcare spending can be attributed to behavioral and lifestyle choices, which means that 70% of health-problems and costs are entirely dependent on our day-to-day decisions and can be prevented. Educating employees on those risks and giving them the right tools and incentives to change their behavior stop further development of illnesses and cuts health costs.
Besides, there is another circle of worries. Money is the top stressor for 72% of Americans. Stress over the financial state leads to a shortage of sleep, emotional eating, more stressful relations with people, and as a result, more health problems, and higher health costs. Some wellness programs take that burden off the employees' shoulders.
A holistic approach to wellness includes the financial health of a person. And some corporate programs include financial education or one-on-one meetings with finance consultant to the program. The better employees organize their money, the better it is for the employer.
With time a program starts to pay for itself. Statistics estimated that for every risk factor that was reduced, a company saves around $950 per year. And as health care is getting more and more expensive, it's becoming evident that it's better to invest in preventive measures than dealing with the consequences of doing nothing.
But the benefits of wellness programs are achieved with time and persistence. The key is consistency and structure, as sporadic actions don't work.
Absenteeism refers to an employee's absence from work due to a variety of reasons:
In some cases, it's hard to determine the exact cause of absenteeism, and impossible to prevent employees from taking sick leave to go to an interview or on a job hunt. But there is a proactive approach to address the rest of the reasons.
The benefits of workplace wellness programs overlap with the reduction of absenteeism. Healthier employees take less sick days, tend to have fewer injuries, and be more present at work. Wellness programs teach and help employees to deal with stress factors both at work and outside, making work a less stressful environment that people want to avoid. One of the benefits of employee wellness programs that we will cover later is improved human interactions among the teammates. And if an employer takes time and puts effort to make a work environment a better place for the employees, people will less abuse sick days as a way to stay out of work.
Wellness programs aren't the last thing people consider while looking for a new job. Yes, position, product, or team are valuable and among the top reasons on the list, but around 73% of U.S. workers consider the availability of health and wellness programs while making their minds. That's why wellness solutions can become part of the HR marketing strategy to attract and retain talents. And even if employees leave a company, 67% of them say they are extremely or very likely to recommend the previous workplace to others.
The logic is simple. People are no longer limited by the location and a variety of options. Hence they are free to choose based on other factors and conditions. And overall, the market is becoming more employee-based rather than employer-driven. Wellness programs can set a company apart and help to stand out. As the company not only covers the professional ambitions of a potential employee, but also provides him/her with tools for a better quality of life, and in general, make the life easier. It builds a company reputation as an attractive workplace what's essential at a time when any employee can review a company and work conditions on professional websites and forums.
Corporate wellness solutions help attract not only new talents but also retain current employees. When employees feel that a company takes care of their well-being, they feel more loyal to their teams. Not only a company invests in the program, but an employee also makes a personal investment in the company by participating in the program. Studies show, in that case, 91 per cent of employees are less likely to leave the company for another position.
The employer benefits by retaining top talent, even if they don't participate in a program. The availability of wellness solutions alone is enough to convince an employee.
Being physically present at work doesn't necessarily mean an employee is fully involved and dedicated to the task. With so many worries in life, people often bring them to the work desk. Uneducated on how to cope with stress and anxiety, people get even more distracted at work. In addition to everything that's going on in personal like, an employee starts to worry about deadlines, meetings, presentations, new projects, relationships with colleagues. In the end, both health and performance suffer.
Another factor interfering with concentration and attention is chronic pain. The feeling of pain during a prolonged period is a huge stressor. It affects mental and emotional health, behavior, self-control, and abstract thinking. A person is distracted by pain or struggles with anxiety, fearing that the pain will come back. As a result, an average person with joint chronic pain reports reduction in work productivity ranged from 2.4 hours per week. Employees with multisite chronic pain see a decrease in productivity up to 9.8 hours per week. These facts highlight the importance of wellness at work.
Stress and chronic pain can trigger other risk factors like unhealthy eating or smoking as a means to cope with the conditions. Then an employee ends up with a list of unhealthy behaviors and preconditions that are no longer can be ignored. Studies show each additional risk factor is associated with 2.4% excess productivity reduction. Medium and high-risk employees are 6.2% and 12.2% less productive than low-risk individuals, respectively. The cost of lost productivity is a right call for corporate wellness benefits.
Studies show that employees who participated in a program and demonstrated good results showed significant improvements at work. In terms of time, it reflects about 10.3 hours in additional productive time annually, compared with similar, but non-participating employees.
Wellness programs reduce risk factors, prevent avoidable complications, teach how to handle and minimize stress, leaving more resources to focus on work and development. Together with decreased absenteeism, a company shows better daily efficiency. More employees physically and mentally present at work are attributed to the benefits of corporate wellness programs.
There is also a correlation between physical activity and creativity. Regular exercise or just a walk outside or on a treadmill, has a positive effect on divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is a skill to generate several ideas and solutions on the same topic or problem. This type of thinking is usually stimulated during brainstorming sessions or freewriting. Convergent thinking is the opposite. We can deduce the solution through logical reasoning and calculations. Two of those polar opposite models of thought, both connected to creativity, are stimulated by exercises.
This is not necessarily mean a company has to start a massive corporate fitness program, including onsite facilities and personal trainers. In this TED video, Marily Oppezzo describes their study on how walking enhances creativity and helps to come up with new ideas:
Realizing these benefits, so many top managers are sean having a walking meeting. For example, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Apple teams have meetings on the go. There is a strong mind-body connection, and those companies take benefits out of it.
Another famous example of how work and art can benefit from regular physical exercise is Haruki Murakami. Japanese novelist wrote the whole book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, uncovering how the acts of running and writing are interconnected in his life. In one interview, Murakami said that most of what he knows about writing, he learned through running. And it's not only divergent and convergent thinking. Physical exercises train two disciplines - focus and endurance, that later help during the working process.
Physical activity has overall positive biological and psychological effects helping the mind stay young for longer. Moderate-intensity exercise is related to increased performance in working memory and cognitive flexibility, while high-intensity exercise improves the speed of information processing. A company can start a small corporate challenge and see all the benefits of healthy employees.
Photo Credit: Unsplash
One of the long-term and probably the least noticeable benefits of wellness programs are increased job satisfaction and engagement of the employees.
Those factors are related to the availability of a wellness program because it's bold evidence a company is taking care of the health and well-being of the employees. Organizational support helps to achieve work-life harmony and feel that employees' input is valued. Hence, an employee finds more joy in work and invest more in the process. Research shows, 88% of people working at a company providing healthy solutions feel more engaged.
It happens due to several reasons. Providing health and wellness benefits a company makes the life of the team easier, takes some of the essential worries away, and cut employees' costs on health and fitness. The indirect cause is a friendly competition among colleagues and an opportunity to get to know them and build interpersonal connections. Feeling of connection and involvement creates a sense of belonging, what's extremely important for everyone.
Last but not least, the incorporation of a corporate wellness program turns a group of employees into a community and improves team cooperation. So often employees feel isolated. Even if they all are at the office, most of them communicate via emails or in the corporate messengers and rarely cover issues that are not related to work. For new ones in the team, it's often hard to break the barriers and approach others even with work-related questions. The feeling of isolation is especially relevant in 2020 with a growing number of remote or distributed teams and everything going on in the world.
Photo Credit: Unsplash
Wellness programs, challenges, and healthy competition foster connections and thus improve communication. Some of the remote wellness program examples include:
All of those activities boost health and wellness, but also create a space for community building and interpersonal interactions. Employees value a sense of community in the workplace. Harvard Business Review includes a sense of belonging into the list of top 3 things employees want, beside prospects of a good career and a cause.
Dynamics in the team has a direct effect on job satisfaction, productivity, and mental state. As employees who feel connected to the colleagues easier approach their workplace networks in case of struggle. An employer wins because engaged employees are more productive. One study shows that women who have a best friend at work are 63% more engaged compared with the women who said the opposite. And having a best friend at work, for women and men, leads to a number of outcomes:
This perfectly rounds up all the benefits of wellness programs and shows how one is linked to the other. There is no deadline or concrete order when all of those benefits will come into life in a given company. On average, it takes a year to see the results and evaluate program efficiency.