A successful corporate wellness plan has the potential to transform lives as well as the bottom line, but business leaders often struggle with implementing these programs. While wellness plans have become a fixture of corporate life — half of all organizations made up of 50 or more employees have one in some form — these well-intentioned incentives generally fail to save money or improve employees’ health.
The money invested in these programs is often not well spent. It’s common to spend a small fortune on wellness projects that get very little participation — I’ve seen companies spend $250,000 a year on gym memberships and not see their healthcare costs or absenteeism levels budge.
Other health incentives such as offering expensive screenings are great in theory, but they don’t always leave the employees with effective strategies to fix potential problems. And informational packets with generic exercise and nutritional information are a popular but poor attempt at a wellness program. They usually don’t generate any action on the part of employees.
But these setbacks don’t mean companies should give up entirely on wellness plans. Doing nothing to encourage employee health may lead to even greater costs. Health-related loss of productivity costs employers billions of dollars each year, and the cost of healthcare, worker’s compensation, and short-term disability for unhealthy employees is more than double that of healthy employees.
So what does work? The first step to developing a successful wellness program is to find out what is motivating employees. Consistent participation is the real key to seeing a return on investment, and that won’t happen if the program you’ve put in place isn’t striking a chord with people. Participation will be contagious — especially when people start seeing results.
Secondly, look for ways to get the most out of the money you’re spending. Pick health and wellness concepts that will actually deliver results and encourage participation. While business leaders often fail to rank healthy eating high enough in the wellness hierarchy, it will, by far, have the most impact on overall employee health and productivity if implemented correctly.
There are four simple ways to address both of these concerns and make sure your company’s wellness program is going to be popular and effective:
1. Poll your employees.
The easiest way to ensure participation is by making sure you’re providing viable options. Maybe your employees want healthier lunch options or reimbursements for fitness classes they enroll in. Attractive wellness incentives set employers apart from their competition and help them hire high-caliber employees.
It’s becoming more common among businesses, especially successful startups, to purchase one or two healthy meal options for employees each day. It’s amazing how well this goes over with potential hires, and the improvements in wellness and productivity are astounding. Simple changes like this may not be obvious until you ask employees what they want.
2. Reallocate your funds.
If a large company is spending $200,000 on gym memberships, as mentioned before, it would be wiser to use that money to build a company gym. The convenience and potential for co-worker camaraderie makes employees more likely to get into the habit of participating in healthy activities. Or if employees have mentioned a desire for healthier meal options, wouldn’t it make sense to let them choose from a variety of healthy lunches each week that are partially or completely paid for by the company? Considering that absenteeism is 27 percent lower and productivity 29 percent higher for employees who regularly eat a healthy lunch, that money turns into quite an investment.
3. Hire a corporate wellness manager with a proven track record.
If you don’t have the time or experience to enact an effective wellness program by yourself, there’s no shame in calling in an expert. Someone with a history of making a difference and achieving high levels of employee participation can help you figure out the right program for your business and your team. A corporate wellness manager can also help you stay up-to-date on industry trends. While many existing wellness programs aren’t working, some of them are doing a tremendous job. Learn from those programs, and incorporate aspects that would work well for your team.
4. Be vocal about your wellness goals.
There’s no shame in telling employees what results you expect to see from your program. You obviously can’t force participation, but many of your employees will appreciate your effort. They’ll also gain a better understanding of your concerns about increasing healthcare costs and a lack of productivity — it’s likely that they’ve never thought about these costs. Don’t be discouraged by reports of failing wellness programs; by collaborating with your employees, investing your money wisely, and asking for outside input when necessary, you can set your company’s program up for success.
These four strategies will prepare you for a program that will not only make your employees excited to participate, but will also help them see real, long-lasting results.