What is a Wellness Program?
A wellness program is a program designed to improve and promote health and fitness offered through the workplace.
Why Do Employers Have Wellness Programs?
There are several reasons why employers might be interested in helping employees improve their health. The usual motive, however, is unsustainable healthcare costs. Single and family premiums for employer-sponsored coverage have risen an average of 5 percent each year since 2005, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation —a rate rising faster than inflation.
Wellness Program Ideas
Here are a few ways small to mid-sized employers can invest in workplace wellness without breaking the bank.
Organize a step challenge that encourages employees to reach the recommended step count of 10,000 steps per day for a certain period of time. This option requires nothing but pedometers for those who sign up ($3), posters for the workplace, email announcements/updates and a prize for the winner(s).
This prize should be valuable enough to encourage participation. For instance, an employer could offer a $500 gift card to a healthy meal delivery service or meal-kit provider.
An employer with 50 employees would probably end up paying about $700 for this entire production. As a return, the employer would increase employee engagement—a metric with significant employer benefits.
Incentivize employees to use free online resources such as ChooseMyPlate.gov. ChooseMyPlate is a USDA-sponsored site that provides users easy-to-understand physical activity and nutrition information for every age range. The site includes tools to understand each individual’s nutritional needs and guides to eating healthy on a budget. Educate employees on how to use this site as a resource, ChooseMyPlate as an instructional tool for employees. Each week, post a new cheap and healthy (and yummy!) recipe in the workplace kitchen.
Create an easily-accessible library of mental health resources. These libraries can include free tools such as worksheets, smartphone apps, mental health support groups, emergency mental health helpline, or any Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) your company may have access to.
When putting together this library, take advantage of public mental health resources in order to identify and accommodate mental challenges in the workplace. For instance, the Center for Workplace Mental Health offers free tools such as “depression calculators” that identify the mental challenge, avenues for treatment and reasons treatment may be the best option for your company as a whole.
How to Start a Wellness Program
There are four key steps to building and launching a successful workplace wellness program:
- Survey employees and set goals
The elements of your wellness program will vary based on your goals. If your focus is on job satisfaction and recruiting, you may want to orient your program around stress reduction and team-building. If you want to reduce your healthcare spend or decrease absenteeism, you may focus on smoking cessation, diet improvement or general health plan awareness. Part of the goal setting process should be developing a vision for the future workplace. How do you want employees to feel about the workplace? What are you doing well? What behaviors can you better integrate into your company culture?
- Develop the program and incentives
There are hundreds of interventions you might want to put into practice at your workplace. One of the most effective interventions is simply helping employees better understand their health plan, especially if it includes benefits such as diet counseling or wellness coaching. Having a health plan representative come and speak to employees, or available to take questions by phone, can be extremely beneficial.
Tobacco-use cessation programs are also some of the most common wellness initiatives introduced by employers. Employers are allowed to charge tobacco users up to 40 percent more, representing a steep discount for non-users. These programs can be structured in a few ways, but many employers offer flat premium discounts for non-tobacco users, or those who agree to complete cessation courses by a certain date.
- Implement the interventions
Once a plan has been developed, its success hinges almost exclusively on how well the program is marketed to employees.
If employees were involved in the development process, they shouldn’t be surprised when the efforts officially launch. Even so, you will want to communicate your goals and address any misconceptions that may linger. For example, some employees may feel that wellness programs are an attempt to glean personal information that can be used against them when it comes time for raises or promotions.
In announcing the program, you might want to say something like “Our goal in initiating these efforts is simply to improve the culture of health here at the office. We believe focusing on wellness will make our company a more enjoyable place to work, but these efforts are not mandatory. Please participate if you would like, but it is not required. And of course, we’re always open to suggestions on ways we can improve.”
Ideally, the efforts you’ve chosen will be easy for employees to participate in. They should not extend the workday, but rather be integrated effectively throughout
- Measure and adjust the program
The evaluation process is key to program success. You may want to plan for a long term evaluation process that includes multiple assessments.
- Program Assessment: Consider issuing another survey after six to eight weeks of implementing your program to learn if the program needs immediate adjustments.
- Second Biometric Screening: Six months to one year after implementation could be an appropriate amount of time to complete a second biometric screening.
- Cost-Savings Evaluation: After one year, and on a yearly basis moving forward, evaluate claims data to see if you are moving the needle on costs.
- Engagement Survey: Cost reductions are not the only metrics worth tracking. Six months to one year after implementation, consider re-issuing an engagement survey to track improvements in employee participation, workplace loyalty and job satisfaction.