Why Are Wellness Programs So Popular Anyway?

By Anna Kleiner | 09/02/2016

A focus on healthy living is becoming more commonplace these days. Everyone you know suddenly has a new diet or fitness app. Maybe your partner has started the Paleo diet, or a coworker who used to claim he was allergic to exercise has taken up running. Maybe your father has started insisting on all-organic produce. Every day, there are more and more wellness topics trending in the news. Wearables and health tracking continue to rise in popularity as our knowledge of the impact chronic conditions have on productivity and performance improves. 

As health and wellness continues to take over the consumer space, it’s begun to impact business as well. Wellness programs, onsite health clinics, and a company culture that promotes wellness are popular benefits with the millennial and Gen X workforce—so much so, that offering wellness programs has been found to improve employee retention. According to one SHRM study,  45% of employees working for small and medium-sized companies say they would stay at their jobs longer because of an employee wellness program. 

Wellness programs improve productivity and retention 

In addition to retention benefits, wellness programs have shown to increase productivity and decrease indirect health care costs. Many employers underestimate the size and effect of indirect healthcare costs stemming from each individual employee, and how those directly impact their bottom line. These indirect costs drive an estimated 70% of the total cost of healthcare for a company, affecting everything from presenteeism to injuries and chronic illness. 

Because many wellness programs target lifestyle choices that lead to chronic conditions, (which impact employee absence rates), they’re often an effective solution for managing a company’s indirect health care costs. More organizations are becoming aware of how much employee health and lifestyle choices can impact their bottom line. 

Wellness programs can have a big impact on your injury costs 

In one example,  a construction company analyzed its workers who carry heavy equipment and operate jackhammers, and which illnesses and injuries were most common among them. What they discovered may seem predictable: musculoskeletal injuries were the most common cause of disabilities and absenteeism/presenteeism. 

The surprise was the source of the injuries. The company found that a much higher rate of obese employees were getting injured compared to their peers. Obesity amplified the musculoskeletal injuries previously thought to be inevitable in that line of work.

Not every job at this company involved the stress of a jackhammer, but the company was squeezed by an increase in medical costs and a decrease in employee productivity due to unhealthy lifestyles across the board. By hiring employees and placing them in a work environment with unhealthy vending machines, minimal wellness programs, and a lack of engagement around employee health, this company inadvertently created an environment that increased both direct health costs and indirect costs from lost productivity. 

It creates a team environment 

While those in finance may not always understand the specifics of marketing, or data analytics may seem foreign to those in HR, the desire for better health is a common concept that is familiar to almost everyone. Through a company culture that support a focus on health and wellness, employees from all parts of an organization are able to come together in a shared cause. 

This type of approach has strong appeal to millennials who tend to have a greater sense of openness and uniting together on team projects than the boomer generation that helped shaped much of today’s company cultures. Whether it’s a company-sponsored fitness challenge or simply a small team of employees dieting together, knowing the company supports such efforts helps to create a unity and drive increased adoption. 

The moral of the story is simple: engaging employees with their health today—and giving them the support they need to make healthy choices in and out of the workplace—can pay off tomorrow. Wellness programs can have a big impact on your bottom line, whether you want to improve retention, boost productivity, or reduce indirect health care costs. It takes just four simple steps to get started. Why not make a change today?

[1] https://www.shrm.org/hrdisciplines/benefits/articles/pages/wellness_employeeretention.aspx
[2] Willis Health and Productivity Survey 2014