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What are the benefits of employee wellness programs?

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Many employers have started offering employee wellness programs, but organizations that have not yet launched these initiatives might be wondering if this trend is worthwhile. While there can be real benefits to comprehensive wellness programs, the return you see from your program will depend on several factors.

What is an employee wellness program?

At a high level, an employee wellness program is designed to promote employee health. You may also see the term “employee wellbeing program” used, especially for programs that focus on holistic wellbeing and mental health rather than just the physical health and fitness of employees. It’s important to note that, like other benefits such as health insurance or a 401(k), wellness programs may be subject to various laws and regulations, so it’s important to work with a trusted employee benefits broker.

An employee wellness program may include components like:

  • Exercise programs. Employers may offer exercise classes, gym memberships or subscriptions to online exercise programs. Employers may also promote exercise in the form of friendly competitions, such as a monthly step competition, and other workplace activities.
  • Smoking cessation programs. Quitting smoking can be hard, but workplace support could be what employees need to finally achieve their goal.
  • Preventative health screenings. Early detection can help employees manage their health and potentially reduce employer health care costs in the long run. For example, you may want to offer screenings for prediabetes so that employees who are at risk of developing diabetes can take guided steps to help improve their health.
  • Seasonal flu shots. While many health insurance plans cover the seasonal flu vaccine, some people just never get around to scheduling an appointment to receive the shot. Employers who host a workplace vaccine clinic can help to increase flu vaccination rates and even prevent workplace outbreaks.
  • Mental health benefits. Mental health is also important to wellbeing. Employers can support mental health in a variety of ways, including offering virtual therapy, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), meditation events, flexible work arrangements and more.

The Benefits of Wellness Programs

When executed correctly and compliantly, a comprehensive wellness program could help employers solve some of their most pertinent problems. Potential benefits of an employee wellness program include:

  • Improve worker productivity. According to the CDC, employers lose $225.8 billion each year (or $1,685 per employee) due to absenteeism. However, healthy work practices may help curb these losses. If employers commit to supporting employee health and wellbeing, they may see a decrease in sick days and medical leave, helping to improve the organization’s overall productivity.
  • Control health insurance costs. Health plans have become a significant expense for employers. In fact, many have turned to self-funded plans in an attempt to control costs and coverage. By spending money on preventative care, mental health and physical fitness programs, employers may be able to avoid more costly health care expenses down the road. For example, an employer that offers a smoking cessation program may help some employees to quit smoking, which, according to the CDC, can reduce their likelihood of developing cancer.
  • Boost employee engagement and retention. When employees don’t think their company cares about them, they are less likely to do their best work or to stay with the company. By providing employee wellness programs, employers can show they care about worker wellbeing and promote employee engagement. If employees feel that their employer is invested in them or if they’re able to improve their health through wellness benefits, they may be less likely to want to switch jobs.

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The ROI of an Employee Wellness Program

In theory, an employee wellness program should help employers boost productivity, control health plan costs and increase employee satisfaction. However, before investing in a wellness initiative, you might want to know the typical return on investment (ROI) of these programs.

Johnson & Johnson has estimated that its wellness programs have saved the company $250 million over the course of a decade. For every dollar spent, the return was $2.71.

However, one company’s success with wellness initiatives does not guarantee that another will see the same level of success. This is why it’s important to work with an established employee benefits broker. They can help in the creation and implementation of a wellness program that’s compliant and customized to the needs of your employees.

Getting the Most Out of Your Wellness Programs

If you’ve decided to invest in employee wellness programs, you need to make sure you receive a good return on your investment. While your employee benefits broker will be able to provide more targeted solutions, here are a few examples of tactics that could help improve a benefits program’s ROI.

  • Match programs to needs. If you offer a smoking cessation program but none of your workers smoke, employees will be less likely to engage with the program and its ROI will be poor. To see results, you need to offer programs that match the needs of your workers. This means working alongside your benefits broker to develop programs that target the health and wellness issues your employees might face. It also means crafting programs that your workers can access easily.
  • Encourage participation. Low participation rates are the downfall of many workplace wellness programs. While your benefits broker may be able to create eye-catching communications to help boost engagement, employers also need to build enthusiasm for the program. This might involve getting supervisors on board to build excitement within their teams or advertising the program internally.
  • Overcome concerns. Employers may also need to overcome workers’ concerns. Employees might feel embarrassed or worry that you’ll use their health information against them. Employers should make it clear that all personal health information will remain private.
  • Set goals. Employers should establish both long-term and short-term goals for their wellness program. While long-term goals could include items like improving productivity, lowering health care costs and boosting employee engagement, these effects may not be immediate. In the short term, participation rates may be a better indicator of success.
  • Assess and adjust. Once a wellness program is in place, the work is far from over. To help assess the program’s effectiveness, employers may conduct surveys to see how workers feel about the employee wellness programs and to allow them to give suggestions on where there is room for improvement. To optimize your returns, you’ll want to assess the results and adjust your programs periodically.

Need help developing an employee wellness program?

Employee wellness programs are an important part of your overall employee benefits package. Higginbotham can help you create employee benefits programs that are customized for the needs of your workforce. Learn more by talking to one of our employee benefits specialists and discover how we can help you develop a benefits package that brings you closer to your goals.

Not sure where to start? Talk to someone who wants to listen.

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