There are a vast number of types of workplace wellness programs. In general, workplace wellness programs encourage people to take steps to prevent the onset or worsening of a health condition or sickness and to adopt lifestyles that are healthier. Businesses may implement many types of workplace wellness programs, from onsite gyms to simple workplace wellness newsletters. While some corporations have instituted very comprehensive workplace wellness programs, others have achieved savings or increased productivity with a few relatively easy activities which promote healthier lifestyles. Getting started is what matters the most. Having a plan, along with one or two workplace wellness programs, can serve as a foundation for building a more comprehensive program at a future time.
Why Workplace Wellness Programs?
Workplace wellness programs are an investment in your company's most important resource, your workers. Studies have shown that workers are more likely to be on the job and performing well when they are feeling well both physically and mentally. Workers are also more likely to be attracted to, remain with, and appreciate a employer that values them. Workplace wellness initiatives improve company productivity by:
- Attracting superior quality staff;
- Reducing the rate of absenteeism and time lost;
- Enhancing on-the-job time utilization and decision making; and
- Improving worker morale, which in turn lowers turnover.
Workplace wellness programs have also been shown to be an effective tools in slowing the growth of health care costs. Selecting healthier options may reduce an worker's chances of suffering from illness. Less illness means businesses can lower health plan utilization, thereby lowering health benefit costs, and consequently increasing earnings. While health cost savings from workplace wellness programs may be less evident than productivity gains, research shows that medically high-risk workers are medically high-cost workers as they use additional health care and generate higher claims.
Finally, by investing in workplace wellness programs , businesses will be helping the United States achieve two of its major Healthy People 2010 workplace objectives:
- 75% of all employers, regardless of size, providing a wide reaching staff workplace wellness program; and
- 75% of all a company's staff participating in employer-sponsored workplace wellness program activities.
Best Practices When Creating Workplace Wellness Programs
WELCOA, an organization committed to workplace wellness programs, has identified the seven best practices (“The Seven C’s”) for businesses to follow when creating a comprehensive, effective workplace health promotion program within their corporation.
- Capture senior-level support. Approval from senior management is critical to the success of any workplace wellness program. Management has to understand the benefits of the program for both the staff and the corporation and be willing to fund its development, implementation and evaluation. Descriptions of what other businesses are doing in the way of workplace wellness programs and linking wellness to goals of the business, values and strategic priorities will help to secure senior management support. Department Heads who "practice what they preach" and actively participate in the initiative will go a long way to encouraging others to participate as well.
- Establish a workplace wellness team/committee. Workplace wellness teams / committees should include a variety of possible initiative participants including workers. Your workplace wellness team should include individuals who will be part of creating the workplace wellness program, implementing the wellness initiative and evaluating the wellness program. This creates ownership of the workplace wellness initiative and will produce more innovative ideas. A health promotion team will help to garner “buy in” from both management and the participants, develop a wellness program that is responsive to all participant needs, and will be responsible for managing all of the company’s health promotion efforts.
- Collect information that will drive your workplace wellness initiatives. Once your wellness team is in place and management is on board, it is time to gather baseline information to help assess staff wellness interests and health risks. The results of your data collection will assist you in what kind of wellness initiatives to provide. This process may involve a survey of staff interest in various workplace wellness initiatives, health risk assessments, and claims review to determine current staff disease risk.
- Develop a yearly operating plan. For your workplace wellness program to work, you must have a goal. A yearly operating plan should include a mission statement for the health promotion program in addition to specific, measurable short-and long-term goals and objectives. Your wellness program is most likely to be successful if it is linked to one or more of the company’s strategic plans, as it will have a better chance of retaining the support of the powers that be throughout the installation process. A written plan also provides continuity when members of the workplace wellness team change and is important in holding the team accountable to the goals, objectives, and timeline agreed upon.
- Choose appropriate health initiatives. The health initiatives that you choose should flow naturally from your data (questionnaire, Health Risk Appraisal aggregate report, claims) to goals and objectives. They should address current risk factors in your employee population and be in line with what both executive management and workers want from the workplace wellness initiative.
- Develop a supportive atmosphere. A supportive atmosphere provides workers with praise, ample opportunity to participate in workplace wellness programs, and rewards. A culture of wellness that stands behind wellness programs might have such features as healthy food choices in their vending machines, may not allow smoking or tobacco products and flex-time that allow workers to workout. A employer that values wellness will applaud and praise workplace wellness achievements and have a executive team that models healthy behavior. Most importantly, a atmosphere of wellness involves workers in every part of the workplace wellness initiative from their design and promotion to their implementation and review.
- Consistently assess your outcomes. Evaluation involves taking a close look at your goals and objectives and deciding if you attained your desired result. Evaluation allows you applaud goals that have been attained and to stop or change ineffective initiatives.