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Is an Employee Wellness Program Worth Establishing?

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 8/12/2011

An at-work wellness initiative can help your employees lose weight, quit smoking and live longer, healthier lives. Are there any downsides to doing so? Read on to learn potential benefits as well as disadvantages.

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    Weigh the Pluses and Minuses

    Zoom In And Zoom Out There is no single right or wrong answer when it comes to determining whether a business should incorporate an employee wellness program. By examining the pros and cons, determining the needs and interest of your employees and considering your available budget, you can come to the best decision for your specific organization.

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    Savings or Extra Costs?

    When it comes to money, there are both pros and cons to setting up employee wellness programs. Of course, such a program will require a financial investment. Depending on what benefits your program will include, your initial costs can vary greatly. There will also be costs involved with maintaining the initiative.

    Wellness programs may be comprised of any or all of the following elements: screenings and assessments; groups, classes and workshops; newsletters and other media; healthy food choices on hand, such as in vending machines or the employee break room; and the availability of exercise programs or equipment either on site or at little to no cost for employees.

    Depending on the size of your business, you might need to create a new position just to oversee this program. Therefore, it is essential that you take a good, hard look at your budget and the needs of your employees prior to working on plans for a wellness program.

    On the other hand, launching a wellness program can also save your business big bucks. For example, a study published in the February 2008 edition of the "Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine" reported that one company obtained a $1.65 return on investment for every dollar spent on their wellness program over a four year period.

    Paid sick leave and the use of temporary employment to cover staff members who are out due to illness can cost your business thousands of dollars. Employees who take part in the program can lower their BMI, cholesterol levels and risk of related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. They can stop smoking, reduce stress and discover health issues earlier through provided screenings. All of these factors will lead to employers with improved overall health, which means fewer sick days and increased productivity.

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    Healthy and Productive or Lack of Involvement?

    As noted, healthier employees are more likely to be present and productive on a regular basis. A wellness program that meets the needs of your staff can further boost efficiency by providing sufficient exercise, information about and access to healthier food choices, and even improved rest and relaxation when work is done. These changes can mean the difference between a sluggish group who is struggling to stay awake and alert during an afternoon meeting and an energetic team that is full of ideas and enthusiastic, motivated employees.

    On the other hand, offering help, support and information is only beneficial when employees actually seize the opportunity and put it to good use. If the majority of your staff members—particularly those with the greatest need for improved health—fail to get involved in your wellness program, your investment may be lost.

    Meet with your team as a whole, in small groups or even one-on-one to determine the amount of interest and willingness to participate in such a program. Find out what types of groups, information and activities they feel they would benefit from the most, and what level of involvement they are ready to offer.

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    Morale Boosting or Personal and Embarrassing?

    While you probably cannot mandate involvement, you can encourage it by offering perks such as awards for goals met. Come up with fun ideas so that staff members look forward to taking part in wellness activity, such as theme potluck lunches using healthy recipes or team building activities that include enjoyable physical exercise. In addition, urge employees to inspire, motivate and even challenge one another. Divide staff members into teams and hold monthly contests centered on health and fitness. Create a bulletin board to announce winners and share successes.

    Of course, this should all be done in a lighthearted and encouraging manner so as not to cause distress or humiliation. Avoid events that might embarrass anyone, such as public weigh-ins or mandatory physical competitions. As with any personal information, always ensure privacy when employees take part in health screenings, groups or other personal activities.

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    The Bottom Line

    There may seem to be a fine line between the pros and cons of employee wellness programs. If there is considerable interest but not quite enough to make it worth the potential cost, you may want to offer a program as an optional benefit with a low premium for those who wish to get involved, similar to health insurance and other programs. Alternatively, you might offer the program free of charge to employees, but make it available to their immediate family members at an affordable rate to help cover costs.


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