Workplace Wellness Programs

Workplace Wellness Programs are becoming popular with employers as part of their solution to increase productivity, promote health and fitness with their employees, and lower health insurance costs.

Facts about Workplace Wellness Program

Research has found when an employer has a healthy and happy workforce, it typically correlates to more business success through higher levels of productivity than unhealthy employees. Employees can also save on health care costs when their employees learn how to better manage their own health. So, it’s no surprise to learn that more than two-thirds of all U.S. based employers offer a workplace wellness on some level.  The company wellness industry has blossomed in to a nearly $6 billion industry, with many different options to assist employers in their workplace wellness program initiatives.

Wellness programs can range from annual flu shots to robust health screenings and personal health coaching. There are also some popular programs such as discounted or free gym memberships, smoking cessation programs, and weight loss programs.  

Although employees have tended to embrace the benefits of wellness plans, there are still a significant number of non-participants in these programs of around 60 percent.  Some of the reasons these programs might not fully be appreciated is a non-supportive company culture, trust and privacy concerns, or inconvenient program options. 

Most employers offer some type of incentive to their employees to participate in the wellness program. Some companies offer financial incentives such as lower health care insurance premiums or cash for employee participation. In almost all cases, these incentives greatly help the participation in the programs. There are also wellness programs designed to charge higher health insurance premiums to employees who don’t participate in the program.

Wellness Programs as an Investment

Corporate wellness programs have been around for a while, beginning in the 1970’s, however they have grown with increasing popularity since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. ACA offered companies some incentives to offer participatory wellness programs to their employees and families. The goals was to help reduce health care insurance costs by preventing serious medical conditions earlier, and to create a culture of health awareness.

While it is hard to prove a definitive return on investment (ROI), some wellness leaders boast of a $1 to $3 return on each dollar invested in wellness programs, therefore they are typically viewed as solid investments for employers to make.

This increase in prevalence of wellness programs has created an entire industry that caters to workplace wellness program needs.  In a recent study from the RAND Corporation, corporations spent an estimated $6 billion on wellness in 2013, with that figure likely exceeding $8 billion now.

Certain types of wellness programs don't have a high-dollar return. Employers may want to evaluate which types of programs provide the most “bang for your buck”.  However, realize that some wellness initiatives reduce costs in the short term, but some lagging indicators won’t see a different for three to five years. This is the case for many disease management programs that help prevent major medical conditions from getting worse.

The efficacy of corporate wellness programs is still a widely debated topic, and there is definitely not one solution that fits all business’ needs. It may be a good idea to gauge the general level of interest in these types of programs by discussing or surveying your employees.

Wellness Programs to Treat Chronic Conditions

Wellness programs can help treat chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, blood pressure, obesity, and heart conditions.  This can be achieved through individual coaching with the affected employees, or by offering discounts on prescriptions or free care for the regular diagnostic services to maintain their condition.  Wellness programs can be a very effective took in teaching employees how to better manage their situation and how to stay as healthy as possible.

Diabetics who don’t fully understand their condition can cost your plan more.  So, by educating your diabetic employees on how to properly care for themselves, the employer could save money for potential absenteeism or long term healthcare costs. 

General Wellness Programs

Larger employers have moved toward more of a well-being approach that includes various engagement strategies, technologies, and behavior modification to encourage health lifestyles.

Many of the employees surveyed about their workplace wellness program needs have replied they would most like to see an onsite workout or fitness facility. Most employee say they like the ideas of on-site facilities due to their convenience, inviting environment, and low or no cost membership.

Some employers have chosen to implement wellness centers which bring together like-minded employees who share similar goals of help build a sense of a wellness community and culture. These employers have found the wellness culture is often contagious among employees.

Corporate wellness programs that have incorporated mental health support have been successful as well.  Many of the employees surveyed by Health Fitness have said they feel mental health support can be as important as physical health support.

How Can Employees Mitigate the Risks?

There are some risks for employees that participate in wellness programs.  Due to privacy concerns, employees should make sure the consent forms for health data collection explains how data will be collected and how it will be used by both the wellness vendor and the employer.

Employees should feel assured that their information will remain confidential and that their health data won’t affect any employment decisions. Due to the increase of technology involved in storing this data, employees should feel comfortable that the risk of their data being compromised is minimal. 

What Can Companies Do Regarding Legal Liabilities?

Employers who offer wellness programs should investigate the potential legal liabilities these programs might open them up to.  Whenever health information is gathered and stored, there is a risk of potential hacking or leaking of data.  Employers should create a distinct wall between the data they see and what the wellness vendor keeps on their behalf to protect the employees’ health information. Employers should thoroughly review and ensure the vendors they work with have strict standards for dealing with protected health information. 

If you need additional information on workplace wellness programs, you can post your legal need 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 Google, Strip, and Twilio.