Time to take employee wellness to the next level

About two-thirds of HR people from organizations that offered wellness initiatives indicated these efforts were “somewhat effective” or “very effective” in reducing healthcare costs. The return on investment (ROI) related to employee wellness programs typically includes the overall healthcare cost-savings achieved and productivity increases due to reduced sick days employees take.

An article in the Harvard Business Review demonstrated how ROI can be attained through employee wellness programs. Focusing on one employer, doctors Richard Milani and Carl Lavie studied a random sample of 185 workers and their spouses. The participants were not heart patients but received cardiac rehabilitation and exercise training from a team of experts.

Of those classified as high risk when the study started (according to body fat, blood pressure, anxiety level, and other measures), 57 percent were converted to low-risk status by the end of the six-month program. Furthermore, medical claim costs declined by $1,421 per participant compared with those from the previous year. A control group showed no such improvements.

The bottom line: Every dollar invested in the intervention yielded $6 health care savings.

The Rand Corp., a nonprofit research institute, examined 10-year data from a Fortune 100 employer. More specifically, the Rand Wellness Programs Study examined two aspects of the employer’s wellness program: the lifestyle and disease management components.

Interestingly, disease management was responsible for 86 percent of the challenging healthcare cost- savings, generating $136 in monthly savings per member and a 30 percent reduction in hospital admissions.

So with all this data, is it time to try improving employee wellness programs?

Improving employee wellness programs is not an option anymore; it’s a necessity driven by rising health insurance costs. One employer I worked for required that all employees sign onto a health portal whenever at work. The health portal focused on health news, such as the correlation between obesity and cancer, and even had recipes to make heart-healthy meals. They also had an employee “walking club” that met at lunchtime for walks ranging from 1 to 3 miles.

What about financial incentives such as lower health insurance premiums based on weight and level of exercise? They could work but would be subject to state laws however, if a company is saving money on employee wellness programs, shouldn’t they pass on the cost savings to their employees?

Investing in wellness programs to reduce workplace stress and help employees cope helps employers fight burnout and retain top talent. The Buffett National Wellness Survey reported similar findings, showing that businesses with highly effective health and productivity programs report 11% higher revenue per employee and 28% greater shareholder returns.

In short..it’s time to expand employee wellness.