A rising concern about employee wellness--and its effect on productivity--is driving more U.S. businesses to adopt some type of health and wellness programs in the workplace. After all, the equation is straightforward: A healthy employee should miss less days of work, may better cope with job-related stress, and can be generally more productive than their unhealthy counterparts.
What factors should a business consider before developing a wellness program within their organization? Here are key considerations to keep in mind:
Clarify the benefits to any naysayers in the executive suite. If the CEO or others are skeptical about the return on investment (ROI) of a wellness program, offer these facts and clear-cut advantages:
- At present, almost 90 percent of U.S. businesses "use some form of employee wellness program--from gym memberships to health screenings to flu shots--all designed to improve health."
- The goals of wellness programs, which include boosting awareness of the value of taking care of yourself and your family, can motivate employees to change bad health habits and cope with rising healthcare expenses.
- Generally speaking, businesses emphasizing health awareness can see greater employee productivity, and better recruitment and retention results, as job candidates increasingly seek to work in a health-conscious workplace.
Assess the current state of your employees' health. A well-designed employee wellness program focuses on specific needs and concerns. To get a more precise understanding of the situation, Tatiana Spears at CareATC suggests the creation of an aggregate employee health report that, "much like the dashboard of a car...can illuminate which area of your organizational vehicle requires attention." Such a report where developed in compliance with applicable laws and guidance could help pinpoint challenging areas of employee health.
It’s important to note that both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) don’t allow employers to gather and use information about their workforce’s health conditions (or those of their family members). However, it may be permissible under both laws for employees to solicit health-related information to determine any health risk factors, where “the employer is providing health or genetic services as part of a voluntary wellness program.”
Survey employees on their preferences. Supplement the findings of the initial assessment with results from an on-site (and confidential) employee survey. For example, if they could design a wellness program, what would your employees want? Choices may run the gamut from stress-management workshops and discounted gym memberships, to smoking-cessation classes, and/or tips on creating a personalized exercise regime.
Don't try to start a wellness program from scratch. Some businesses hesitate to move forward with employee health programs because they just don't know where to begin. But there are plenty of resources out there to help you structure a program that best fits your company's particular needs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, offer a wealth of information on designing, implementing, and evaluating workplace health programs (including a "Worksite Health ScoreCard"). It's an excellent starting point for building the right type of program for your business.
Make sure the program is available to everyone. A common fallacy around employee wellness programs is that they're only effective with people who already practice healthy living habits. As corporate wellness expert Alan Kohll reminds us, "You can't force employees to participate in your wellness program," but it must be "accessible to every employee" in the organization. If disabilities or existing health conditions pose an issue, "plan for that and make accommodations to wellness activities as needed."
Be creative in offering incentives to participate. Even the best-designed health programs will encounter some employee resistance or hesitation to participate. Offering a relevant incentive can boost participation rates. Whether it's gift certificates, discounts on health clubs or wellness product give always you may likely see greater employee buy-in with the right type of incentive.
Get the word out! Employees won't feel any special urgency about joining your wellness program if they don't know anything about it. By communicating across all available platforms, you can clearly describe the benefits and rewards of taking part while also demonstrating your company's commitment to maintaining a healthy, productive workforce. Employees need to understand that the business is fully behind the effort before they "get with the program."
Recognize and reward healthy behavior. Another key motivator for certain employees can be public recognition within the organization. Highlighting individual success stories (with the employee’s consent) and offering "non-monetary rewards unique to your company can tell employees that they are 'champions' who've mastered significant challenges valued by peers and the organization."
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently released two Final Rules that describe how the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act apply to wellness programs offered by employers. Although the guidance is generally applicable to plans effective January 1, 2017, some of the rules are a clarification of existing rules and were effective immediately upon release. These rules are available on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website along with a sample notice to meet the notice requirements under the guidance, question and answers as well as small business fact sheets.
If you've been thinking about implementing a wellness program in your workplace, there's no better time to start than right now. When you consider the benefits to your business just by promoting regular exercise, a full-scale wellness effort is likely to pay off big in terms of employee satisfaction and productivity.