Company America is increasingly investing in employee wellness because it is great business. In order to meet productiveness demands, businesses must rely on a healthy, productive workforce to succeed in the highly competitive global marketplace. Over a hundred research studies in both corporate and governmental settings have documented the economic benefits of Corporate Wellness Programs, including reduced absenteeism, reduced injuries and workman’s compensation costs, reduced medical costs, reduced employee turnover, as well as greater productiveness, greater worker satisfaction, and improved morale.1-10
The more recent literature reflects improvements in wellness programming along with greater return on investment (ROI). In general, the more focused and intensive the program, the greater benefit realized. To enhance their performance federal government Worksite Health Promotion Programs may be able to incorporate some of the features described. Employee wellness programs determined to have positive returns on investment frequently include the following features:
1. Health and work rate management model
Programs characterized by this model focus attention on identification and reduction of specific risks or behaviors such as smoking, lack of physical exercise, excess weight, unhealthy diet, high cholesterol, high Blood Pressure (BP), stress, depression, and so on. High-risk workers are specifically targeted for intervention, even though the most successful programs also direct efforts towards healthy workers in order to maintain their low-risk status. This model emphasizes outcomes as opposed to simply offering wellness activities for their own sake.
2. Health risk appraisal
Use of a computerized health risk appraisal (HRA) instrument with individualized feedback and recommendations is almost universal in thriving programs. Employees take the questionnaire annually in a myriad of cases. The HRA serves to broaden awareness, support direction, and innervate people to improve specific behaviors. In some cases, the personalized report is directly linked to appropriate resources related to identified risks. Research indicates that the use of an HRA is effective if it is followed by some kind of educational or therapeutic intervention for identified risks. It often serves as the entry point into wellness programs.
3. Health Screening
Many programs combine the results of the health risk appraisal with measurement of each employee’s biometrics, including weight and Body Mass Index (BMI), Blood Pressure, cholesterol, fasting glucose, and assorted other metrics. Combining the results of the HRA with biological measures results in a more accurate risk profile. Computerized health risk appraisals often incorporate biometric data in their risk analysis.
workers are generally given monetary or other significant rewards for completing an HRA, participation in a program or class, specific accomplishments such as stopping smoking, losing weight, or working out, and for maintaining healthy status and/or behaviors. In countless cases the monetary incentives are associated with reductions in health insurance premiums. Some programs use disincentives as well as incentives, such as charging workers who use tobacco higher rates for their health insurance contribution.
5. High participation rates
Successful programs use incentives/rewards to drive participation rates up. They also market their programs extensively, and may use contest or challenge strategies to heighten enthusiasm and bolster participation.
6. Wellness coaching
workers with identified risks or desire to better their health habits may be periodically coached via phone by trained health and wellness coaches. Health Coaching helps workers set and achieve realistic lifestyle-related goals/objectives including those addressing stress, work life balance, smoking, weight, physical activity, and various behavior modifications. Three or more sessions are generally available. In some intensive programs, the coaching extends to actual disease management intervention for workers with identified elevated-risk diseases.
7. Multiple formats
Programs may offer wellness content in internet based, paper, and seminar formats to reinforcement stimulating variety and alternatives in order to accommodate the needs of all workers. In addition to onsite physical activity and healthy eating activities, on-line programs, e-mail reminders and notices, printed newsletters and materials, and employer classes are common dissemination strategies.
8. Upper Management backing
Enthusiastic and persistent endorsement by management is vital to achieving high rates of participation. When senior executives are wellness role models themselves the effects of endorsement are enhanced.
9. Frequent contact
Successful programs have successive contact of some sort with every employee. This may be through marketing efforts (e.g., posters, e-mail notices, reminders, or messages, etc.), bulletin boards, newsletters, employee meeting presentations, discussion in new employee orientation, supervisory sessions, etc. The key is to enhance employee awareness of health and wellness opportunities and reinforce the corporate emphasis on wellness through successive and multiple “touches”.
10. Open enrollment
To promote high participation rates staff members must have easy access to the wellness programs and activities. Open and uncomplicated enrollment processes achieve this. Some organizations automatically enroll all staff members and then allow those who do not wish to participate to “opt-out”. This practice has been shown to boost enrollment rates in some settings.
11. Family participation
Many programs promote spouses and other family members to participate in the corporation wellness activities and to adopt a healthy lifestyle along with the designated employee. It is far easier for the employee to have a healthy lifestyle if his/her family does so as well.
12. Smoking cessation
Because smoking and other tobacco use is the number one threat to health it is vital to offer staff members effective and convenient assistance with quitting. Access to smoking cessation pharmaceuticals is frequently part of such programs. In-house programs support the most convenient access to these services, although on-line or phone-based programs may be available as well.
13. Exercise Programs
Regular physical exercise is a core component of every wellness program. Employees must be strongly encouraged to engage in regular physical exercise. Most programs provide either periodic or continuous workplace opportunities, and some locations have workplace gyms, swimming pools, walking trails, etc. Discounted or paid memberships to neighborhood exercise facilities is a common alternative to workplace facilities.
14. Weight management
Because obesity is a major threat to health it is imperative that programs offer effective assistance with weight management. Robust encouragement from upper management to shed excess weight is valuable. Online programs, workplace programs, or discounted access to weight management programs in the neighborhood may all be available. Long-term follow-up is critical for maintenance of weight loss.
15. Stress management
Workplace stress is perhaps the most common concern among workers and a major contributor to absenteeism, presenteeism (reduced work rate), and low morale. Almost all thriving wellness programs offer assistance with personal and worksite stress. Some programs refer workers to outside resources for more serious conditions like depression and anxiety disorders, but most offer online or persistent onsite general stress reduction programs. Some employers endeavor to structure the work environment to minimize stress, both physically and operationally.
16. Health screenings/immunizations
employees are actively encouraged to complete recommended health care screenings for Blood Pressure, cholesterol, BMI, colorectal and breast cancer, and others. Annual influenza immunizations are also encouraged. Some sites support these services at the workplace. Incentives are often awarded for completion of these screenings/immunizations.
17. Onsite health care
Actual provision of on-Site primary care medical services is a growing trend. The rapidly escalating expenditures of medical care insurance for workers has stimulated this trend. Some organizations have saw that it is less expensive to offer primary care services themselves than to fund those services through health care insurance. Onsite care also reduces the amount of time workers would otherwise spend away from the worksite getting such services.
1. Aldana, Steven G. (2001) Financial Impact of Corporate Health Promotion Programs: A Comprehensive Review of the Literature. Am J Health Promotion 15(5):296-320.
2. Chapman, Larry. (1998) The Role of Incentives in Health Promotion. The Art of Health Promotion 2(3):1-8.
3. Chapman, Larry. (2003) Biometric Screening in Health Promotion: Is it Really As Important as We Think? The Art of Health Promotion 7(2):1-12.
4. Chapman, Larry. (2005) Meta-Assessment of Worksite Health Promotion Programs Economic Return Studies: 2005 Update. The Art of Health Promotion, July/August, 1-15.
5. Chapman, Larry. (2006) Employee Participation in Workplace Health Promotion Programs and Workplace Health Promotion Programs: How Important are Incentives, and Which Ones work Best? North Carolina Medical Journal 67(6): 431-432.
6. Chapman, Larry, Lesch, Nancy, and Passas Baun, Mary Beth. (2007) The Role of Health and Wellness Coaching in Corporate Health Promotion Programs. The Art of Health Promotion, July/August, 1-12.
7. Chapman, Larry. (2007) Proof Positive: An Analysis of the cost-Effectiveness of Job Site Wellness. Northwest Health Management Publishing, Seattle, WA.
8. Chapman, Larry. (2007) An In-Depth Look at the Economic Evidence for Rewarding Health Behavior Change. Workshop presentation at the World Research Group “Rewarding Healthy Behaviors for Health Plans and Employers” Conference, Orlando, FL, January 23-24.
9. Edington, Dee. (2001) Emerging Research: A View from One Research Center. American Journal of Health Promotion 15(5): 341-349.
10. Edington, Dee W. (2007) Health Management as a Serious Business Strategy. Presentation at the World Research Group “Rewarding Healthy Behaviors for Health Plans and Employers” Conference, Orlando, FL, January 23-24.
11. Pelletier, Barbara, Boles, Myde, and Lunch, Wendy. (2004) Changes in Health Risks and Work Productivity. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 46(7): 746-754.
12. Pelletier, Kenneth R. (2005) A Review and Analysis of the Clinical and Cost-Effectiveness Studies of comprehensive Health and Disease Management Programs at the Worksite: Update VI 2000-2004. JOEM 47(10)1051-1058.
13. DeVol, Ross, Bedroussian, Armen, et. al. (2007) An Unhealthy America: The Economic Burden of Chronic Disease. Report released by the Milken Institute. www.milkeninstitute.org.
14. Partnership for Prevention. (2008) Investing in Health: Proven Health Promotion Practices for Workplaces. http://www.prevent.org/images/stories/2008/investinginhealth_finalfinal.pdf.