Workplace wellness is an organized program to assist and support employees in establishing healthier lifestyles. This can include increasing employee awareness on health topics, scheduling behavior change programs, and/or establishing company policies that support health-related objectives. Programs and policies that promote increased physical activity, tobacco use prevention and cessation, and healthy food selections are a few examples.
Dimensions of Optimal Health Wellness is more than physical fitness. In addition to physical fitness, the dimensions of optimal health include
These dimensions are often depicted as a "life wheel" with examples of health components that include fitness, nutrition, purpose in life, financial planning, social connections & support systems, stress management, mind-body health, career planning and continued learning. The key for individual health is keeping the “life wheel” in balance. A comprehensive workplace wellness program addresses most, if not all, of these dimensions.
Programs and policies that promote healthy behaviors can make a big difference on employee wellness AND have an impact on the company’s bottom line. Studies have shown that for every dollar invested by employers in workplace health promotion/wellness programs, there were savings ranging from $1.49 to $4.91 with a median savings of $3.14*. In business terms, that's more than a 3:1 minimum return on investment - a number that is hard to ignore, and a best practice that should warrant serious consideration from companies. In fact, a workplace wellness literature review posted in Health Promotion Practitioner Journal found:
There is little doubt that a comprehensive wellness program targeted to meet a company’s specific needs can save money by reducing absenteeism, lowering healthcare expenditures, decreasing employee turnover, and increasing productivity. * US Department of Health & Human Services, 2003
Major benefits of healthy employees include:
What is NOT having a workplace wellness program costing your company?
Consider the health risk factors that are increasing chronic diseases for adults:
Health Care Costs are Increasing: Healthcare costs are at a record high of $1.7 trillion with no signs of holding steady let alone decreasing. The average cost of annual health care spending is over $5,000 per person and with dependents almost $10,000. Recent data shows that health care related expenses now cost North Carolina businesses thousands of dollars per employee, per year.
Most Illnesses Can Be Avoided: Although it sounds unbelievable, experts indicate that preventable illness makes up 60% - 70% of the entire burden of illness in the U.S. In North Carolina, it is estimated that more than 53% of all deaths are preventable, and that 2/3 of all preventable deaths are due to tobacco use, physical inactivity, and poor nutrition.
The cost depends on the type of workplace wellness program implemented. There are several options to promote employee health with advantages and disadvantages of each. The program design depends on the goals of the wellness program, the company resources, and the community resources available.
Improving dietary practices, increasing physical activity levels, managing stress or addressing work life balance issues, and reducing/eliminating tobacco use, are primary strategies for preventing many of the most common preventable chronic diseases. The possibilities of how your company addresses these issues are endless and can range from increasing employee awareness, which may include purchasing a few pamphlets on a variety of topics, and measuring walking distances around your facility, to establishing organizational support such as funding a fulltime occupational health professional or building an onsite fitness center.
When well planned and based on your goals, any of these programs can help you succeed. Refer below to Workplace Wellness Program Design Options for additional ideas.
The program design options depend on the goals and desired outcomes of your program. If your goal is to help employees change behavior, reduce risk factors, or save healthcare dollars then your wellness program would be designed to accomplish those outcomes and a budget would be necessary to support that design.
There are different wellness program design levels depending on desired outcomes and budgets. Each level has advantages and disadvantages. The intentions or results are quite different, are not interchangeable in terms of obtaining the same results, and therefore should not be confused. For example, scheduling activities such as an employee health fair or lunchtime education sessions, or having pamphlets available do not usually result in behavior change, but may increase awareness on a topic. If the goal is behavior change then a different design is required, such as Lifestyle/Behavior Change Programs and Organizational Support. The outline below describes the wellness design levels with a brief explanation.
Awareness Programs: At this level a company makes health information available and accessible to employees. This type of program can include pamphlets on a variety of topics, wellness articles in newsletters, bulletin board displays, e-mail health messages, etc. Also, most health fairs are designed as awareness programs with vendors providing information and providing health screenings to employees.
Awareness programs are inexpensive and do not require extensive employee or company time commitments. However, these programs do not usually result in healthier behavior change. Increasing awareness isn’t usually enough to generate lifestyle changes for most individuals, unless used to motivate employees to register for a program being offered at the company or community on the topic. An example of this would be providing information on the harmful effects of smoking and inviting employees who smoke to register for a smoking cessation class.
Education Programs: Educational programs often provide more information on a topic and can also provide time for questions & answers, but are similar to awareness programs. An example is lunch-n-learn sessions on a health related topic. These cost the company a little more than awareness programs; however, they are still inexpensive and do not require a great deal of time for planning or attending a session. Again, increasing awareness and providing information may not lead to the desired behavior change unless ongoing support or incentives are also planned.
Lifestyle/Behavior Change Programs: These programs are designed as 4 to 12 weekly sessions or workshops to provide health and wellness education, address barriers and provide opportunities to practice the desired skills. Behavior change programs therefore require more company resources, cost more, and also require more employee commitment, time and effort. The results are often the desired positive lifestyle change, which if sustained can lead to potential cost savings.
Examples are smoking cessation classes, weight loss and weight management meetings, or an ongoing fitness program.
Environmental and Organizational Support: Environmental support is often considered the highest and most important level to include when designing your wellness program in order to support and maintain healthy behaviors. These types of design options include policy changes such as:
Other examples include subsidizing healthy vending machines or cafeteria choices; reimbursing gym or weight loss and weight management program memberships; or providing insurance incentives for healthy behaviors.
Ideally, the wellness program design would include some of all of these options. The more comprehensive and integrated the approach, the more successful the results will be. For example, a company can have tobacco cessation information available; can schedule a one hour awareness session on the harmful effects of smoking and how to quit; can implement an onsite smoking cessation program, supply self quit smoking kits, or support employees to attend a community program; and/or on an environmental support level can establish a smoke-free workplace and grounds, offer lower insurance premiums for non-smokers, or provide pharmacological quit smoke aids for free.
There are several key components or elements that must be considered to ensure the success of your workplace wellness or health promotion program. These include:
Refer to Steps to an Effective Program section for additional information