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The Multiple Benefits of a Workplace Wellness Program

The Multiple Benefits of a Workplace Wellness Program

By: Dona DeZube

Are you looking to improve your health of your workers? If so, you’re on to something.

Investing in a workplace wellness program can provide broad-reaching benefits for your company, not just employees. Wellness can improve your employer brand, build loyalty among current employees and may even save you money, experts say. Yet, finding a program that works can be a challenge, especially for growing companies with limited budgets.

Promoting workforce health can also help make your organization an employer of choice, especially for younger workers, says health and productivity management expert Ron Z. Goetzel, Ph.D., vice president of consulting and applied research for Truven Health Analytics and director of the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

If your employees are mostly stressed out 30- or 40-year-olds who eat too much and don’t exercise, you’re not going to turn that around overnight, warns Goetzel.

In general, the most effective wellness programs:

  • Create a culture of health
  • Cover any number of health challenges, including smoking, obesity, exercise, stress, mental health and even workplace violence
  • Get coworkers to join together as compatriots working toward a common goal

And there are more potential benefits. The right employee health program can help boost employee productivity, says David A. Sharar, Ph.D., chief clinical officer, Chestnut Global Partners, Bloomington, Illinois, which provides employee assistance programs.

An effective workplace wellness program might even save your organization money, depending on how you measure costs and benefits (check out how Wisconsin-based furniture manufacturer KI rewards employees for being healthy.) 

Here’s how to get started.

Get the Most from your Wellness Budget
How do you get the most bang from your employee wellness budget? The Transamerica Center for Health Studies’ report, From Evidence to Practice: Workplace Wellness that Works, is a good place to find reliable suggestions that are free or low-cost for improving employee health, Goetzel says.

With so many wellness programs out there, it can be tough to find the right one for your company. The Centers for Disease Control’s Workplace Scorecard can help you set priorities for health programs. 

Survey your Employees on Health
Tools and checklists alone won’t create a healthy workplace. Wellness programs succeed when they’re:

  • Tailored to an organization’s culture
  • Regularly evaluated
  • Given the time to become ingrained in the workplace 

One way to make sure your wellness program fits your company culture is to ask employees what health issues they want to tackle, says David W. Ballard, director of the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence.

Armed with a short list of health concerns, focus your efforts on a particular health condition. For example, AT&T employees improved their heart health by losing 40,000 pounds and logging 2 million miles during the “Chairman’s Challenge,” a competition where individuals and groups competed to see who could lose the most weight, stop smoking, and get healthier.

Create a Flexible Work Environment
If your work practices are not aligned with wellness, your program is likely to fail. In other words, you need to walk the talk. 

PricewaterhouseCoopers encourages its teams to support coworkers who need flexibility to engage in activities like yoga. “Maybe you want to go to yoga and another person wants to go to their kid's performance,” says PwC Global Talent Leader Mike Fenlon. “It starts with trust that you’re not going to view me as less committed to the team if flexibility matters to me.”

Promoting workplace wellness isn’t a one-time effort. It’s an ongoing journey that’s informed by an understanding of your employee population. When done well, it provides a win-win benefit that improves your employees’ well-being and the health of your business.