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Top 4 Reasons to Have a Wellness Programme

Wellness programs are more popular than ever.

They started out as employee perks for large corporations; in fact, they used to be called corporate fitness programs. Today wellness programs are common among both medium and small-sized businesses. Wellness programs are now regularly part of a company benefits package.

When done correctly, wellness programs give employees incentives, tools, social support, privacy, and strategies to adopt and maintain healthy behaviours, both mental and physical.

So why are they so important and what are the benefits for both the the firm and the employee? Here's our top 4 reasons.

1. Wellness Programs Improve Employee Health Behaviours

The core of every good wellness program is behaviour change. With the right education, skills, motivation, skills/tools, and social support, people change behaviours.  Wellness programs are good at helping people adopt and maintain healthy behaviours.  This is perhaps the biggest benefit of having a wellness program.

Healthy behaviors lead to lower health risks, and lower health risks lead to less chronic disease.  With less chronic disease employees have fewer health care costs.

Just about anybody can have healthy behaviours for a few days or weeks. The key is to maintain healthy behaviours for years. As soon as you stop having healthy behaviors you stop getting the benefits.

Most wellness studies show the employees have better health  behaviours. They eat healthier foods, they eat smaller portions, they exercise more often, they smoke less, they don’t drink in excess, they wear seat belts more often, and they’re pretty good at controlling their stress.

Wellness programs can also help alleviate depression and the symptoms of depression as well as improve life satisfaction.

2. Wellness Programs Reduce Elevated Health Risks

The foundation of any good wellness program must be focused on helping employees adopt healthy behaviours. Elevated blood glucose, high blood cholesterol, and high blood pressure are almost all caused by unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity. Eating and exercising are behaviors.

A randomised clinical trial was designed to help people improve their nutrition and physical activity. When researchers looked at the results, they were stunned to learn that in as little as six weeks health risks could improve dramatically. Those who maintained healthy behaviours experience lower health risks for six weeks, six months, 12 months, and even out to 18 months after this program began.

Reductions in elevated health risks are important. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that for every 1% drop in total cholesterol, the risk of having a heart attack dropped by 2 to 3%. For every one point drop in elevated diastolic blood pressure, there is another 2 to 3% drop in heart disease risk.

Low health risks are the foundation of good health, and wellness programs are a great way to help employees and their spouses avoid elevated health risks. There are hundreds of research papers that evaluated the ability of wellness programs to reduce elevated health risks.

3. Wellness Programs Improve Productivity

Poor employee productivity can be defined as physically being at work but not working. This type of poor productivity is called presenteeism. It is estimated that the cost associated with presenteeism due to poor employee health is at least 2 to 3 times greater than direct health care expenses. 

While the estimated cost of presenteeism dwarfs the cost of health care, it does not receive the same level of scrutiny among employers preoccupied with controlling the direct costs of poor employee health.

There are a lot of reasons why employees have low productivity. They may not know how to use the equipment, they may be distracted by other employees, they may not know what they are doing, they may be tired, or they might be on Facebook. One of the main causes of presenteeism is poor health.

Smokers were 28% more likely to have high presenteeism than non-smokers. Employees with an unhealthy diet were 66% more likely to have high presenteeism than those who regularly ate whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Employees who didn’t exercise very much were 50% more likely to have high presenteeism than employees who were regular exercisers. These findings demonstrate that poor health behaviors are strongly associated with high levels of presenteeism.

In short, unhealthy individual lifestyle choices may result in substantially higher levels of lost productive work time.

4. Wellness Programs can Decrease Absenteeism

There are over 50 papers that have looked at the connections between worksite wellness programs and reduced absenteeism.

Worksites with comprehensive wellness programs can experience reduced absenteeism for a variety of reasons:

  1. Employees with good health behaviors have lower absenteeism

  2. Employees who can control their stress have lower absenteeism

  3. Employees with healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose have lower absenteeism.

  4. Employees who are not overweight or obese have lower absenteeism

Any wellness program that can reduce absenteeism will experience cost savings. Harvard researchers in the US looked at the ROI of wellness programs as they relate absenteeism and demonstrated that for every dollar wellness programs spend on wellness they can save $2.73 and reduce absenteeism.

What a Programme could cover

So, you're sold on the benefits and the likely ROI of kicking such a programme off within your firm, so where do you start?

Here's a quick look at some of the things such a programme could include.

  1. Onsite fitness centres. Not every firm has the space or the capital to invest in these, but as an alternative, providing your employees with membership to local gyms or even getting them enrolled in a group weekly HIIT session with a trainer is a cost effective method that delivers the same results.

  2. Smoking cessation programs. It’s no secret that, on average, team members who smoke cigarettes cost their employers more money due to health issues compared to non-smokers. Some workplaces have found it in their best interest, both ethically and economically, to offer smoking cessation programs to their team members.

  3. Commuting options. Encouraging alternative methods of transportation, such as bike sharing or public transit incentives, are beneficial to the workplace and the future of the environment. Facebook’s campus in Palo Alto offers a bike-sharing program for team members to cycle to places around campus rather than driving.

  4. Paramedical Services. Google offers paramedical services, like massage therapy, to their team members while they’re at work. In fact, Google employs a massage program manager, as just one of 35 massage therapists employed in their United States offices.

  5. Yoga. Yoga and meditation is an extremely effective stress reliever. Team members at startups or PR agencies often have to deal with tight deadlines and overtime. Yoga is an effective way to incorporate self-care into work, so that team members don’t have to feel guilty about neglecting work.

  6. Lunch and Healthy Snacks. With only 30 minutes for lunch, many team members may feel that they have to eat fast food when buying their lunch. Again, Google sets the bar high with their cafeterias, offering catered lunches and snacks to team members throughout the day.

  7. Employee Assistance Programs. Wellness not only means taking care of the body but the mind as well. Accenture provides confidential support for issues like stress, substance abuse, depression, and anxiety. Accenture knows a lot of work-related stress can be addressed outside of the workplace through guided support programs, so they provide access to programs, such as financial assistance, for all of their employees. Employees are also rewarded for setting wellness goals and accomplishing them.

  8. Naps. How does an after-lunch snooze sound? Professional or not, there’s no argument that a good nap always leaves one feeling completely refreshed. That’s why innovative companies like Zappos, Facebook, and Asana provide specialized nap rooms for employees looking to catch some afternoon rest. Due to the flexible work schedules, employees can catch a quick nap and return to their projects with renewed energy. It's quite common in Asia too!

  9. Wellness Adventures. Many companies (Zappos for example) offer fitness subsidies, health benefits, and wellness reimbursements. According to their wellness coordinators, physical activity is important but shouldn’t be made mandatory. As a part of their wellness efforts, the Zappos team schedules optional wellness adventures for their employees with the goal of getting away from their desks for a little while. This could look like a one hour golf lesson or even laser tag. The wellness adventures are kept broad to appeal to a wide range of people, and most importantly, are focused on having fun.

  10. Rewards. Baking in away-days or retreats as part of employees performance plan is a great way to incentivise employees as well as keeping them mentally and physically fit.

Want to find out how your firm can craft a programme?

Contact us for more information.

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