Employee Wellness Programs

Employee wellness programs are an emerging trend, with a growing number of companies getting on board to create their own. Companies offer incentives for employees to manage their health better, and in return they reduce their health costs, absenteeism, and improve their workers' job satisfaction.

The main motivation of companies to create employee wellness programs is to reduce the amount they spend on health care and improve company morale. Currently, 81% of companies with more than 200 workers offer their workers employee wellness programs, and 49% of smaller firms have an incentive in place. Larger companies often employ larger wellness vendors to design their program and develop the details. However, in order to remain compliant with privacy and employment law, it is recommended to consult with an employee relations attorney before creating an employee wellness program.

The goal of an employee wellness program should be to reduce stress at the workplace. Wellness programs can be extended to the home, family members, and involve participation in community sports events.

Employee Wellness Programs Are Different in Every Company

Employee wellness programs vary from one company to another based on corporate culture, size, priorities, and available resources. Some companies survey their employees before they develop the program or consult with union representatives to match the incentives offered with the needs and wishes of the workers.  It is important that employee wellness programs are tailored to the needs of all employees, instead of trying to dictate a fitness regime and lifestyle.

Companies can focus on health problem prevention or management. Some programs include recording employees' biometric information and encouraging wearing a health monitor or activity tracker. Other firms provide health education and engagement for their workers, helping them make better decisions. Education programs can include, but are not restricted to, weight loss and smoking cessation.

The Benefits of Employee Wellness Programs

Companies with a healthy, happy, engaged, and productive workforce are more effective and have a better corporate culture than those who have a great rate of absenteeism and low employee motivation. Many companies realize this, and create a culture that supports the well-being of employees, including offering flexible working hours, holidays, time-out sessions, and incentives on fitness membership. However, the hardest part of creating an employee wellness program is to encourage participation.

The greatest mistake a company can make is not communicating the wellness program and its benefits to employees clearly, so workers are confused as to what it is about. This results in lower take-on rate of wellness offers and reduced effectiveness of the wellness program.

According to a recent UnitedHealthcare consumer study, almost 60% of employees said that their workplace wellness programs made a positive change in their lives, with particular focus on their health and general well-being. While there will be employees who take full advantage of wellness programs, others need more encouragement. The main reason for low take-up rate of programs is that workers are not fully aware of the details of the incentives, and they underestimate the incentives offered by their employers.

Lack of motivation to exercise and the lack of time are also responsible for the lack of success. According to the survey results, factors such as lifestyle, traveling time, and personal preferences also influence take-up rates. Employees need to be educated on healthy lifestyle, cooking, and the benefits of staying active to be motivated.

The main goal of employee wellness programs should be to realize a high return on investment and get the dollar amount spent back in higher productivity and employee motivation. However, not all employee wellness programs are successful.

Challenges of Employee Wellness Programs

The greatest challenge of creating corporate wellness programs is to gain employee commitment and engage with workers. Employers have to strengthen the culture of the organization, build employee trust and commitment, and encourage collaboration. At the same time, if wellness programs are unsuccessful, they waste the company's resources. Companies across the US lose millions of dollars due to health-related costs and absenteeism.  

Many employers do not understand that employee wellness programs should be based on a partnership between workers and companies. Trust is a crucial issue, and if it does not exist among employees, engagement with the program will be low.

The cost of health care and health insurance is one of the greatest expenses of employers in the United States, therefore, they need to make employee wellness programs both effective and profitable. The cost of illness-related absenteeism can only be estimated, and low productivity due to ill health is another issue that employers need to address. Workers will look at the recommendations as an "extra target" instead of a goodwill gesture from the company or constructive advice. Further, this approach can affect employees' privacy rights.

Measuring Employee Health

It is challenging to measure the impact of employee wellness programs on workers' health and well-being. Metrics are not always reliable. Some companies use biometric screening, but this can invade workers' privacy. Recording employees' BMI and activity levels can also be an ineffective measurement of general fitness and health.

Why Some Companies Do Not Use Employee Wellness Programs

Employee wellness programs can be viewed as tools used by companies to shift the cost of health onto employees. While many firms offer financial incentives for those who take part in the program, others determine the cost of participating in health insurance schemes dependent on employees taking up of the wellness program. This works against employees who do not take part in the company's employee wellness initiatives. For example, an employee might work as a coach on the weekends and be physically fit, but, because they do not take part in the program – their health insurance cost will he higher than a person's who is less active, but takes part in the wellness initiative.

Under recently updated U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission legislation, companies are able to request the sharing of their employees' health information, to determine the health insurance costs and premiums.

While all companies are aiming to create some kind of incentive for employees to maintain their own health, some studies have shown no improvement in participants' health. The cost of evaluating the effectiveness of employee wellness programs is also high. Even though most employers state that their programs reduced the company's health related costs and absenteeism, savings estimates are rarely published.

How to Make Wellness Programs Work For Your Company

The most important step to creating an effective employee wellness program is to listen to workers. Find out which benefits would motivate employers the most into taking part. Some companies might have a workforce that is young, and offering discounts at the local gym and swimming pool is a good idea. Other firms might focus on getting their older workers active and reducing their absence rates by providing healthy cooking seminars on site. Spend your time and money fashioning benefits that will be useful to your employees. "One size fits all" approaches hardly ever work for employee wellness programs.

Another important part of designing the program is to create a work-life balance and give employers a chance to take part. Providing flexible working hours and giving employees multiple ways of participating is a great idea.

Not all aspects of employee wellness programs should cost money. Creating a bike rack in the car park to encourage cycling to work is not a significant expense. Employees who already have a bike will not have to invest their own money to participate. Likewise, changing the menu at the company's cafeteria and offering incentives for opting for healthy meals that cost the same will benefit both employers and workers.

The key to nurturing the culture of wellness within a company is to encourage and motivate workers instead of forcing them or pressuring them to take part in the initiatives. Remember that each employee is an individual with diverse views on wellness and different priorities. What works for one person to become healthier might have no impact on anyone else.

Try different ideas and consult with employees to see which activities and initiatives are likely to be successful among them.

Ideas to Promote Employee Wellness Programs

  • Hold a health and wellness fair. You can ask local producers and health coaches to provide information to staff who would like to be healthier and fitter. Hold nutrition seminars and ask them to provide an incentive to staff. This collaboration with local companies will help employees better understand health and well-being.
  • Promote smoking cessation and offer an incentive. The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Wharton School created a study and found that financial incentives offered by employers to quit smoking increased the success rate of programs three-fold.
  • Reduce and eliminate eye strain. If your employees stare at computer screens most of the day, they can suffer from eye strain, headaches, fatigue, and blurred vision, etc. Encourage them to take a break from the screen regularly.
  • Create an employee survey to learn what works. Eliminate programs that are not proven to be successful or popular among your employees. You can create simple surveys with Google Forms or Survey Monkey.
  • Make your workplace fit for use. You can keep some balls, air hockey tables, hula hoops, skateboards, and darts in the recreational area of the workplace. Create something fun and elevate worker motivation.
  • Offer discounted membership at a local gym. Many gyms will offer a discount if you sign-up enough employees. Reach out to some local gyms in the area and ask for discounted group rates.
  • Create fitness challenges. You can create fun competitions or challenges for your employees, including sit-ups, taking the stairs, wall sits, or even having a go at an exercise bike. A great chance of awakening the competitive spirit among teams is to create multiple fitness competitions along with other, work-related contests.
  • Offer flexible working. If you would like your employees to go to the gym more often, you need to understand that off-peak membership prices are significantly lower. Let them start late to start go on mile-long swim or leave early to get to the gym before other people finish work.

The Role of Middle Managers in Employee Wellness Programs

In larger companies, employees generally report to middle managers. They are the first point of contact between the management and the individual employee. Middle managers can create mini-cultures within their teams to promote health awareness and meet targets set by members. Middle managers also act as role models for their team members.

The Role of Wellness Program Managers

The majority of multinational companies have wellness program managers. They are responsible for organizing, developing, and evaluating the company's comprehensive wellness program, based on feedback from workers.

Wellness managers negotiate the terms of the program regularly based on feedback and consultation with the management to ensure that the goals of the company and workers are constantly aligned.

The Role of Wellness Champions

Wellness champions can be volunteers within the organization, or appointed by the management. They organize the company's wellness program in a way that it is meaningful, well communicated, and encourages participation and collaboration. They also offer mentoring and limited coaching for employees who need help creating a healthy regime.

The wellness champion will reach out to companies for collaboration and organize local competitions, events, and sponsorships. They have an important role in motivating and encouraging workers and engaging with communities.

As a conclusion, – if utilized well – an employee wellness program that is based on the collaboration between employees and the company can create multiple benefits for the company and workers alike. It can reduce health-related costs, increase motivation, and create a positive culture within the organization.

If you need help with developing employee wellness programs, you can post your question or concern on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.