The effectiveness of workplace wellness programs recently came under fire in the media. But you can’t always take claims of ineffectiveness and low returns at face value.
It’s important for employers to understand the true potential of a workplace wellness strategy, especially when employees’ health choices affect their bottom line.
The implementation of a corporate wellness program is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather a multidisciplinary effort that evolves over time. Wellness programs require resources, commitment from the employer and engagement from employees in order to thrive.
Continual evaluation is crucial, and often modifications are required based on the data collected.
Too often, programs that are the subject of studies are not well-rounded or accredited, and inaccurately represent the value of a true corporate wellness program.
For a balanced perspective when considering or continuing a workplace wellness strategy, let’s look at the positive qualities that can show employers a return on value.
<Comprehensiveness makes a difference
To produce results, a program must be designed around the needs of the participating employer. It must go above and beyond online self-help apps or isolated services such as biometric screenings.
Programs that demonstrate success have a personalized approach at their core, with elements such as health coaching, strategic consultative support and strategic plans based on collected data.
According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Comprehensive programs have a positive impact on health behaviors and financial outcomes and, done right, can save money.”
The article notes that even a 1 to 2 percent improvement in each of those areas can show up in reduced emergency room and hospital visits and reduced absenteeism.
<Board-certified health coaches are an advantage
Many sources speak about the value of personal support in the effectiveness of a wellness strategy. A professional, board-certified health coach provides this kind of one-on-one connection.
One Mayo Clinic study looked specifically at health coaching and quality of life factors (physical, emotional, social, cognitive and spiritual function), along with symptoms of stress and depression.
Study results demonstrated significant improvements in all areas after 12 weeks of coaching – overall quality of life, the five pillars of quality of life, depressive symptoms and perceived stress levels.
<Wellness programs can help manage chronic conditions
Focused education and personal support can affect health behaviors, such as tobacco use, physical inactivity, weight gain and alcohol use, consequently reducing the risk of chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and even depression.
These outcomes are tangible, as evidenced by results at a local eastern Pennsylvania manufacturer. The company saw 15 percent of participants shift into a healthy blood pressure range in just the second year of program implementation.
At another company, employees who participated in health coaching for two consecutive years lost a combined total of 1,300 pounds.
<It takes time to see the benefits
Studies have shown it takes at least three to four years of consistent data collection and analysis to see the effects of a wellness program.
Emphasis often is placed on measuring return on investment, but value on investment has become an equally important aspect of evaluating wellness programs.
VOI includes factors such as higher worker engagement, program component satisfaction, population health improvement, reducing employee turnover and fewer safety incidents.
VOI is harder to quantify compared to ROI because it does not consider dollar amount, but rather, looks at other attributes that contribute to a program’s overall success.
The bottom line is that implementation of a successful wellness program is multifaceted.
There are all kinds of programs, and anything short of a comprehensive and strategic approach will not perform well in a study.
Impressing the importance of health on individuals and employee populations is a long-term endeavor that requires communication, education and the commitment of leadership. Plus, it takes professional educators and coaches to keep employees engaged.
When a company has all these things in place, employers are more likely to see improved health and increased productivity – along with recognition among employees that their employer truly cares about their health.
Sarah Engler is manager, health education and wellness at Populytics/BeneFIT Corporate Wellness (www.populytics.com) in South Whitehall Township. She designs, plans, implements and evaluates corporate wellness initiatives for BeneFIT’s business clients. She can be reached at 484-862-4070 or firstname.lastname@example.org.