Company wellness programs are no longer exclusive to fitness-minded companies or Silicon Valley-based startups. Approximately 50 percent of employers in the United States with more than 50 employees "offer wellness promotion initiatives," according to a 2013 RAND Health Employer Survey.
Employers also seem to be going beyond just offering a few bananas and apples in the break room, with everything from staff weight-loss competitions and marathons to Target's recent announcement that it will be outfitting its 335,000 employees with Fitbits, the wearable device that tracks varying fitness metrics.
"There is no shortage of research that supports the fact that healthy and happy employees are ... more productive than those that aren’t," says Colin Darretta, founder and CEO of WellPath Solutions, a company that provides customized wellness products.
"Helping employees make better, healthier options in their lives can have huge returns with minimal investment," says Joey Price, CEO of Jumpstart:HR, a human resources outsourcing and consulting firm. "Healthy employees call out sick less. This might be the most obvious reason, but few small-business owners calculate the cost of losing an employee due to acute or recurring sickness. [They] should weigh the cost of a lost follow-up call with a prospect and decreased labor hours toward the production of a deliverable."
A healthier team not only boosts productivity—it may also cut costs in the form of reduced health insurance premiums, Price explains. "At the end of the day," he says, "businesses need to earn more money than they spend in order to stay afloat. One of your greatest expenditures right behind payroll is your health insurance. Companies that show they are actively influencing their employees' health care for the better can see significant reduction in expenses through cost breaks from carriers and lower premiums due to healthier employees [filing fewer] claims."
What's more, there can be actual health benefits to instituting these types of programs. "Lifestyle management programs as part of workplace wellness can reduce risk factors, such as smoking, and increase healthy behaviors, such as exercise," according to the 2013 RAND study. And the wellness programs' effects, the study adds, are "sustainable over time and clinically meaningful."
Creating a Wellness Program
Thankfully, the barrier to entry isn't too big to keep small-business owners from creating programs of their own. "It does not necessarily have to mean buying every employee a Fitbit," Darretta says. "On the contrary, employee health education or simply allowing employees to take an hour off in the day to go to the gym can make a measurable difference without an associated out-of-pocket cost."
"Make it simple," advises healthy living expert Tanisha Shanee. "Some wellness programs are too intense. Healthy living is about making healthier choices, simple as allowing employees to walk up the stairs or investing in a filter water system."
"Rather than instituting a program, small businesses should think about making health and fitness a part of their overall company culture," says Alex Charfen, co-founder and CEO of CHARFEN, a training, education and consulting company. "Culture is a much stronger driver of positive behaviors than simple programs or campaigns could hope to become. In fact, a health program within a weak company culture is doomed to fail.
"By transforming your company culture to include health and fitness," Charfen continues, "employees won’t feel swept up by a mandate or limited-time initiative. Instead, employees will enroll themselves in the culture and self-select the desired, beneficial behaviors, [which can] result in more lasting changes in health and fitness."
Whatever you decide, a wellness program can be a win-win for both employer and employee.
"It just feels good knowing you played a role in someone quitting smoking, lowering their cholesterol and perhaps extending their life so they can enjoy more time with family," Price says. "Instead of simply giving a gold watch after the end of a 40-year career, why not help alter the trajectory of an employee's life for the better?"
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