A good wellness program can advance a company’s health in every sense of the word. Employee well-being means lower medical expenses, improved morale, and higher productivity. Yet outside of large corporations, few employers offer wellness programs.
Companies extend the benefits they have to. Workers’ compensation is required by the Department of Labor, and all businesses with W-2 employees contribute their 7.65% to Social Security and Medicare.
In unionized industries, workers earn their perks at the negotiating table. It’s common for a benefits package to consist of short-term disability, health coverage, life insurance, and a pension plan.
In competitive sectors like technology, companies fight for top-tier candidates. Compensation packages are loaded with fringe benefits such as profit sharing, tuition reimbursement, and paid parental leave.
Small businesses operate on strict budgets and are reluctant to spend more on employee benefits than is mandated by law, collective bargaining, or the demands of their respective industries. Consequently, only about one-third carry a wellness program.
How Wellness Helps
This may be due to the mistaken belief that these programs are a waste of resources. Wellness is not a recruitment tool, and the payoff is rarely immediate, but the right program is money well spent.
Wellness programs address health issues that insurance plans do not, namely, the illnesses and injuries that people bring with them to work. Many employees view headaches, back pain, and depression as inconveniences to be toughed out. Sadly, neglect can turn these concerns into emergencies that burn sick days or shelve a worker for the long haul.
Muddling through illness also results in presenteeism, or lower on-the-job productivity. Presenteeism is a major drain on earnings and a predictable source of safety failures, low morale, and low rates of retention.
Another problem with presenteeism is its tendency to fly under the radar. When an employee blows through PTO, management notices. By contrast, diminished quality can escape detection for months. Even when a manager knows that an employee struggles with a nagging sickness or injury, it’s not always clear how that condition affects their performance.
Measuring a Wellness Program
It can be just as tricky to pinpoint the ROI, or return on investment, of a wellness program. Certainly, ROI is measurable in basic ways. If employees are healthier and happier, a company will save on insurance premiums. Likewise, if a firm is self-insured, it will spend less on doctor’s visits and prescriptions.
However, the full impact of wellness is challenging to gauge. For small businesses, this is all the more reason to eschew wellness in favor of vacation days, health insurance, and retirement benefits, which can be linked to positive recruitment outcomes.
A Holistic Approach
That said, there are ways to evaluate a wellness program. One method is VOI, or value on investment. This inclusive framework grades healthcare savings and recruitment along with categories like presenteeism, absenteeism, workplace safety, employee morale, and retention.
Consider the advantages of retention. When a senior employee quits, the organization loses their leadership, business contacts, and years of experience. Saying goodbye to costly personnel may balance a budget, but at the expense of productivity and future growth.
ROI excludes retention and any reward that can’t be quantified in dollars and cents. VOI takes the big-picture view.
For purists who balk at models like VOI, there are other metrics. A recent study found that companies with award-winning wellness programs outperform the S&P 500 by 7% to 16% per year. Winners of the ACOEM Corporate Health Achievement Award and C. Everett Koop Award, principal standards for employee wellness, beat their peers by 13% and 15% respectively.
Another team studied the effects of a six-month cardiac rehab and exercise program. They discovered that for every $1 spent, the company recouped $6 in claim costs. By the end of the program, 57% of high-risk employees were re-classified as low-risk for demonstrating improvements in body fat, cholesterol, blood pressure, and behavioral symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
The Adoption Problem
Of course, a wellness program will only succeed if Human Resources sells it to employees, who must then buy in. HR can spread the word by embracing a total rewards compensation scheme that combines wages with bonuses and perks. In response, workers may regard wellness as a core component of their benefit package on par with medical insurance, tuition assistance, and their retirement plan.
The next step is to increase buy-in. Full-time employees are busy, and part-timers have outside commitments. It’s not easy to get people to a wellness event. Of those who do make it, some will be uncomfortable sharing with the group. There are plenty of reasons, both personal and professional, why one might decline to participate.
Truth be told, most employees would simply prefer to stay at their desks. Workers are insecure about their jobs and desperate to remain productive. Time off for wellness is viewed as a luxury that few can afford.
Personalizing Employee Benefits
Fortunately, there are new, digital wellness programs that overcome the usual objections by delivering advice and actionable health data via mobile app. Each addresses a distinct medical issue like diabetes, lower back pain, or nicotine addiction.
This bolsters enrollment. While nearly 70% of smokers want to quit, diabetics are more concerned with their weight or blood sugar levels. By going digital, an employer can offer cessation tips to the smoker and blood sugar management tools to their diabetic colleague without forcing either to endure irrelevant content.
Once workers sign up, progress is encouraged through coaching, alerts, and other features designed to motivate and keep users safe.
Omada is a good example. A pre-diabetes and type-2 diabetes management system, it combines coaching and online lessons with smart devices such as scales and glucose monitors that synch to user accounts. When a participant misses a weigh-in or fails to log a meal, they receive a text or email reminder.
Livongo is another option consisting of an app and connected glucometer that shares user blood sugar records with a health coach. If a participant’s levels slide out of range, their coach checks in. If levels are dangerously high or low, the check-in comes within minutes.
Hinge Health, which focuses on musculoskeletal pain, is based around an app integrated with sensors that users wear for guided stretching and strengthening exercises. To keep participants engaged, the program delivers curated wellness articles and coaching that follows best practices in behavioral medicine.
Quit Genius, available on Android and iOS, is a smoking cessation system built on scientifically-proven techniques like gamification and cognitive behavioral therapy. Feedback empowers users as they journey through personalized exercises and mindfulness sessions designed to help them kick the habit. The program also includes nicotine replacement therapy, dedicated one-on-one quit coaching, and a connected carbon monoxide breath tester to validate results. Since its launch in late 2017, Quit Genius has helped 60,000 people quit smoking for good.
Paying for Results
Because these app-driven systems are successful, they tend to favor an outcomes-based payment model. Companies only pay when employees sign up, put in the effort, and achieve meaningful results.
This levels the playing field for small businesses, which have always sidestepped benefits that aren’t required by law, collective bargaining, or a talent war. Thanks to outcomes-based pricing, a startup or mom-and-pop can invest in company health without fear of busting their budget.
By addressing the illnesses and injuries that folks bring with them to work, a wellness program can save a business millions in direct medical expenses while boosting production, morale, and retention.
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