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Employee wellness matters: Exploring the benefits of health insurance

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If you own or manage a business, you know how important it is to make the well-being of the company’s employees a top priority. An employee wellness program is a driver of success and sustainability for any organization in any industry, and the core of an effective strategy for employee wellness is comprehensive health insurance coverage.

In this article, we will review the reasons why employee wellness matters, and we will explore some of the personal and financial benefits that group health insurance can provide to both your employees and your business.

A Century of Gradual Development

The concept of employee workplace well-being began in the early 1900s when a few visionary employers found that an eight-hour workday or a five-day work week would make their employees more productive. One of the first large companies to put this into practice was the Ford Motor Company, which adopted the 40-hour work week in 1926.

When it came to creating a wellness program that included health insurance, American workers paid for their own health care until the 1940s. However, increasing inflation amidst World War II brought a wage freeze in 1942. Unable to attract workers with higher wages, employers began to use employee health insurance and employee wellness as competitive tools in the tight labor market, which persisted throughout the post-war recovery.

In the 1950s and 60s, technology companies began to experiment with employee wellness benefits by creating fitness programs for their employees. In the 1970s, the federal government got involved, developing guidelines for workplace safety through the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other regulatory bodies.

By the 1990s, leading employers were including in their employee benefits packages programs for alcohol addiction, smoking cessation and other programs focusing on improved employee wellness through lifestyle changes.

In a 2020 survey of large U.S. companies, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 81 percent of their respondents offered access to comprehensive corporate wellness programs. Large companies are making wellness program investments for the benefit of both employer and employee. Smaller employers that want to be more competitive should follow suit.

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Well-Documented Benefits of Employee Wellness Programs

In recent decades, the benefits of health insurance and employee wellness programs, for both employer and employee, have been well-documented. The primary employee benefits of a wellness program include:

  • Enhanced productivity and performance
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Attraction and retention of top talent
  • Improved employee morale and job satisfaction
  • Cost-effective preventive care
  • Tax advantages for the business

Let’s take a closer look at each one of these benefits and consider how they make health insurance and employee wellness programs uniquely rewarding investments in business growth.

Comprehensive Wellness Often Equals Enhanced Productivity and Performance

When employees are both physically and mentally healthy, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated and productive in their work.

A comprehensive wellness program with health insurance provides employees with affordable access to regular check-ups, preventive care and any necessary medical treatments for illness or injury, helping them to maintain optimal health in the long run.

By investing in the well-being of healthy employees, the business owner or manager is helping to create a positive company culture that fosters job satisfaction and strong performance.

Reduced Absenteeism

Without health insurance coverage, employee illness or injury can lead to frequent absences, resulting in lower productivity and higher operational costs for the business.

With health insurance coverage included in their employee benefits plan, workers can proactively address their health concerns, get regular checkups, keep up with vaccinations, receive timely medical attention and minimize the duration and severity of sick leaves.

By supporting employee health care needs with a corporate wellness program, the business makes a direct contribution to a healthier workforce, reducing sick days and medical leaves of absence.

Employee Retention and Attraction of Top Talent

In today’s competitive job market, health insurance and a focus on employee wellness is no longer a nice-to-have benefit; it is a must-have tool for attracting and retaining high-quality employees. Talented professionals, especially those with families, often prioritize benefits packages that include health coverage when considering job opportunities.

By providing a robust wellness program with an employee health insurance plan, the business will not only attract top talent but will also increase employee loyalty and reduce turnover, lessening a company’s investment in recruitment, onboarding and new hire training.

How do we know that this works? Only 25 percent of surveyed employees feel that their employer cares about their well-being, and 63 percent say that wellness programs factor into their job search. These are two huge opportunities for a business to stand apart from the crowd when recruiting.

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Employee Wellness Linked to Improved Employee Morale and Job Satisfaction

The most essential element of morale and employee satisfaction is a sense that employees are valued and being cared for by their employer. Employee wellness programs and health insurance coverage are powerful demonstrations of a company’s commitment to employee well-being, which promotes a positive team culture and fosters a sense of loyalty.

Knowing that employee health care needs are covered by a wellness program can engage employees, alleviate financial stress and provide peace of mind, leading to increased job satisfaction and a happier workforce.

Cost-Effective Preventive Care

Health insurance coverage not only assists employees when they fall ill or become injured; it also emphasizes preventive care. Regular checkups, screenings, annual flu shots and early detection of serious health issues significantly reduce health care costs over the long term.

By offering health insurance, you position your employees to take proactive steps toward maintaining their health, which can prevent more severe illnesses and potentially reduce health care expenses for the business in the long run.

Tax Advantages for the Business

Providing a wellness program with health insurance coverage can also offer tax benefits for businesses. Premiums paid by employers for employee health insurance may be fully tax-deductible.

Taking advantage of these tax benefits for wellness initiatives can help offset the costs associated with offering health and wellness benefits, making it a more financially viable option for even a small business.

Elements of Comprehensive Wellness Programs

In programs that strive to achieve industry best practices to improve employee health, the goals of employee wellness have been further expanded beyond physical and mental health to include employer-provided guidance for the physical, career, social, financial and community elements of well-being.

Physical Wellness Programs

Employees who do not feel well may lack the energy to do their best work, or they may be distracted by reduced physical fitness or chronic health issues that interfere with their best efforts to be productive. Employees who arrive at work feeling physically healthy can concentrate on the task at hand and can sustain the energy and determination needed to overcome the toughest challenges arising from their work.

Career Wellness Programs

The two phenomena known as the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting tell us all that we need to know about the importance of including career motivation programs among wellness benefits. Workers who are frustrated by their job, employer or career path will struggle to find the motivation to perform. Workers with training and educational assistance who are fulfilled by their job, respected by their employer and confident of their career path will both perform and excel.

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Social Wellness Programs

Machines do not need friends to function at their peak, but human beings have a strong need for social connections. Studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control have shown that people who are socially connected are more likely to make healthy choices and have better health outcomes. People with supportive relationships are also better able to cope with stress and anxiety. Employers can help workers find and develop these connections.

Financial Wellness Programs

In a 2023 survey by Bankrate, 52 percent of respondents said that money is having a negative impact on their mental health. Most people receive little training in financial literacy, so problems with credit cards and loans are common. Millions of workers carry large student loans. Recent inflation has only made these problems worse. Employers can support workers by expanding their comprehensive benefits package to include strategies for financial planning assistance, managing debt, saving and investing.

Community Wellness Programs

Connection to one’s local community fosters a deep sense of belonging. Employers can develop these connections both inside the team and in the broader community where the business is located. Every community in America has worthy causes looking for members of the community to get involved. Every company can provide donations or paid time off to empower employee involvement in volunteering.

The Future of Employee Wellness Programs

Building on the shared benefits of health insurance and employee wellness programs, forward-looking employers are continuing to expand the scope of employee well-being to include mental health services, telemedicine, flexible time off, paid parental leave, child and elder care and services tailored to remote workers.

Mental Health Services

The Department of Health and Human Services published a 2023 advisory on “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation.” Due in part to the pandemic and the growth of remote work, many workers feel that they are alone in dealing with workplace stress and life challenges that impact their mental well-being. Employers are uniquely well-positioned to help alleviate social isolation through social and community wellness initiatives.

Telemedicine Employee Benefits

Telemedicine has enabled employers to provide employees with a regular health assessment delivered more easily, more often and at a lower cost to the health program. Employees can consult with a primary care provider or a registered dietitian to decide whether specialty care is required. Care providers can provide stress management techniques, offer nutrition education, monitor symptoms of known health risks and make post-procedure appointments more convenient for the provider and the patient. Telemedicine is also an excellent format for educating patients about their condition or treatments.

Flexible Time Off

A powerful new contributor to employee well-being is generous flexible time off policies. Every employee has a unique family situation and may require time to care for a spouse, children or elders. When the employer acknowledges that employees need flexible work arrangements, this accommodation on the part of the employer can be regarded by workers as a very valuable benefit. Another powerful new tool is allowing employees to apply unused PTO to their student loans.

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Child and Elder Care Employee Benefits

The most valuable employees in many organizations may be younger employees, who often have a growing family or parents who may be transitioning to a more dependent role. When companies acknowledge these family situations and step up to support a worker’s need to care for children and elders, the resulting partnership builds a close connection between employer and employee.

Employee Assistance Programs for Remote Workers

Employers can support and reward remote workers with Grub Hub meals, Amazon credit and other subsidies for office furniture, computer enhancements or monitor upgrades. Team building can be promoted by the employer with virtual training, team games and other shared events that restore a sense of social connection to fellow employees.

Well-being 101 for Business Owners and Managers

The business owner and the management team are responsible for capturing the benefits of employee wellness programs. A few basic strategies will help the company ensure that well-being becomes a priority.

Lift Every Employee

Every worker has strengths and weaknesses. As the business owner or manager, you and your supervisors can spot problems to correct or eliminate and strengths to play upon. By making every employee better and stronger through an employee wellness program, you will strengthen the company as a whole.

Remove Negative Supervisors

Are team leaders working to lift every employee…or are they mistreating their subordinates and making their lives miserable? Managers must support the company’s mission to enhance employee well-being and support a healthy work environment. If they cannot or will not, they need to leave the organization.

Make Team Leaders Responsible for Employee Wellness Programs

Employees are not there to make their bosses look good. Supervisors are there to coach employees toward their best performance. An effective player-coach relationship includes the level of trust required to rely on the company for help with personal goals for well-being.

The Bottom Line

Investing in employee well-being through comprehensive health insurance and employee wellness programs will bring numerous benefits to any business. By prioritizing employee well-being to promote employee health, the business owner or manager creates a positive work environment in which enhanced productivity, reduced absenteeism and improved morale are just a few of the natural outcomes.

Investing in employee wellness allows a business to demonstrate its commitment to the well-being of the team, along with ultimately reducing long-term health care costs for the employer. As a business owner or manager, providing that care is a wise investment, with a high yield in terms of the overall success and sustainability of the business.

Higginbotham can help you keep your workforce happier and healthier through a strong employee benefits program. From health insurance to retirement plans or wellness programs to FSA and HRA administration, we streamline your employee benefits and communicate options to your team. Talk to an employee benefits specialist today and see how Higginbotham can help answer your questions, educate your employees and turn your uncertainties into opportunities.

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