Employers, Employees, and Even Society Benefit from Office Wellness Programs

By Terri Eyden
Research shows that wellness programs are becoming more prevalent in the workplace, and for good reason. They offer benefits to employers and employees alike – it’s a win-win. Many studies and surveys attest to the value of wellness programs, including to society as a whole.
Surveys and Studies
WORKING WELL: A Global Survey of Health Promotion and Workplace Wellness Strategies. WORKING WELL: A Global Survey of Health Promotion and Workplace Wellness Strategies is a survey conducted by Buck Consultants, a global HR benefits and human resources consulting firm. For the last four years, the firm has investigated emerging trends in employer-sponsored health promotion and wellness programs and published its findings.
In 2010, 1,248 organizations based in 47 countries, representing more than 13 million employees, responded to the survey. Of those organizations, 66 percent indicated they have a formal wellness strategy (an increase from 49 percent since 2007). Thirteen percent implemented their program within the last year, and an additional 54 percent within the last two to five years.
In the WORKING WELL survey, “wellness programs” refer to those that are designed to improve the health and well-being of employees (and their families) in order to enhance organizational performance and reduce costs.
In the United States, where health care cost control is the primary strategic driver for wellness, 40 percent of respondents measured the impact of wellness programs on their health care cost trend rate. Of those employers, 45 percent reported cost reductions.
Highmark, Inc. Survey. Return on investment is the most common measure of wellness program success. A recent study conducted by Highmark, Inc., the parent of several BlueCross/BlueShield health plans based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, indicates that cost savings are measurable and significant. The study was published in the February/March 2011 issue of the Journal of Health Promotion.
A four-year analysis of the health plans' wellness programs indicates that health care costs rose at a 15 percent slower rate among employers that participated in wellness programs compared to employers that did not offer wellness programs. The average savings per participant was $332.
Comdata Survey. As the cost of providing medical insurance to employees seems to continue to spiral upward, companies are frantically looking for proactive measures to control some of the expense. Wellness programs are a big part of this strategy, according to the Benefits USA 2011/2012 Comdata Survey. Of the companies offering wellness programs, 48.2 percent of employees participate in them.
Department of Health and Human Services Report

In 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services found that of the $2.5 trillion spent on health care annually, up to 75 percent is used for treating preventable conditions. To counter that, health care reform is helping smaller companies initiate wellness programs with the assistance of grant money, tax credits, educational surveys, and online portals.

Employer Benefits
Employers who offer wellness and fitness programs have experienced:
  • Improved employee morale.
  • Fewer employee sick days.
  • Reduced health care insurance costs.
  • Increased employee productivity.
  • Decreased employee turnover.
  • Positive results when used to attract potential employees.
Employer Incentives
Employers report they offer incentives that total anywhere from $100 to $1000. Some of the most popular incentives include:
  • On-site access to health services, such as blood pressure monitoring, cholesterol screening, smoking cessation programs, and nutrition counseling.
  • Reduced employee contributions to their health care premiums or lower copays and deductibles. 
  • On-site fitness programs, such as yoga classes or exercise equipment.
  • Daily nutritional snacks - fresh fruit, yogurt, vegetable trays, granola bars, etc.
  • Brown-bag wellness lunches.
  • Wellness segments at staff meetings.
  • Paid memberships to exercise/fitness clubs.
  • Cash or gift cards for spa treatments.
  • Seminars on health-related issues.
  • Catered dinners that offer healthy choices.
Employee Benefits
Employees who participate in wellness initiatives say they:
  • Have more energy and are more active.
  • Feel healthier and happier.
  • Pay less in health care premiums.
  • Put more emphasis on attaining a work-life balance.
  • Are more health-conscious consumers.
  • Feel valued by their employers.
  • Experience greater camaraderie with their coworkers.
  • Feel they have a support system.
Talk to your clients about starting a wellness program in their business if they don’t already have one in place. Explain how tax credits could work to their advantage and point out the other ways a wellness program could save them money.

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