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Wellness in the Workplace 6/14/2017

Wellness in the Workplace

By: Amanda-Rae Garcia, MBA, CHPD, CCWS, Wellness Director

Employer wellness programs have come a long way, both in terms of the offerings designed to promote employees’ health and productivity, and the benefits to an organization’s business practices. Twenty years ago, wellness strategies primarily focused on driving recruiting and retention through perks like paying for employee gym memberships, hosting an annual health fair, or sponsoring a weight management program to educate and motive workers to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Although such interventions have been shown to reduce health care costs and benefit a company’s bottom line over time, designing a program with the singular goal of saving money is short-sighted. Instead, forward-thinking employers are looking at ways to foster a culture of wellness throughout the work environment and help employees lead richer, more meaningful lives.

In this new work environment, the term “wellness” is being replaced with “well-being” or “lifestyle engagement.” Organizations that are doing it well take a holistic approach to improving the lives of their employees with initiatives designed to help them achieve career, financial, and community wellbeing, as well as better physical and emotional health. Progressive employers acknowledge the individuals who make their organization tick are mothers, fathers, volunteers, and citizens. Their needs extend far beyond staying physically fit or keeping their blood pressure low. From C-suite executives to the hourly worker, employees at every level face the persistent challenge of reducing stress, achieving financial security, and feeling a sense of connectedness and purpose in their work and home life. To this end, new trends in worksite wellness programs target a comprehensive workplace experience that fosters overall employee health while leveraging awareness and incentive programs to drive employee engagement.

A Supportive Environment
The foundation of most wellness initiatives centers on tried-and-true efforts to increase awareness and reduce health risks, particularly chronic illnesses. According to a report from the American Heart Association, more than 70% of all health care spending is caused by treating preventable risk and unhealthy behaviors. Chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stress that are often linked to poor dietary choices lack of physical activity and lack of stress reducing healthy activities.

Employers maximize the opportunity to raise awareness and foster lifestyle-based behavior change by providing employees with valuable education and resources. For example, to make it easier for employees to know their current health status or get preventative care, businesses now are bringing those services into the workplace by offering biometric screenings, cholesterol screenings and flu shots, as well as free fitness classes on-site.

Equally important as physical fitness is emotional well-being. U.S. businesses lose upwards of $300 billion a year due to absenteeism, accidents, medical costs, employee turnover and lost productivity, according to a report from the American Institute of Stress. To address these issues, many companies have begun offering stress management workshops, meditation instruction, and quiet spaces where employees can unplug and recharge in the middle of the work day. Similarly, internal social networks and mobile apps provide a venue where employees can engage with wellness champions and with one another to receive guidance and encouragement – and their willingness to stick with a well-being initiative ultimately improves overall outcomes. Personal finances also offer an opportunity for employees to enhance or hinder their overall well-being. By educating through workshops and integrating educational tools into a company’s learning management strategy, stress over money can be targeted and positive financial well-being can be gained.

In addition, organizations are looking for ways to make the workplace environment more supportive to a healthy lifestyle. Vending machines are being stocked with water, fresh fruits and nuts instead of sodas, chips and chocolate. Office chairs are replaced with exercise balls or ergonomic work stands and employees receive high-tech wearables to help them monitor and encourage activity level increase throughout the day. Healthy options are offered at company lunches, walking meetings are encouraged, and the aforementioned use of effective quiet spaces allows employees the opportunity to step away and recharge. Creating a supportive physical environment and the incorporation of policy and/or integration into health benefits sends a message to employees that healthy living is part of the company’s culture and business practices, regardless of their industry space.

The Steps to Success
When developing a wellness strategy, businesses should look beyond fancy add-on programs and adopt the mindset of protecting and enhancing employees’ overall well-being. Wellness should become a business best-practice, and a core company value that is demonstrated from the leadership down. Employee portals, surveys and focus groups can provide valuable data to structure and customize a program to the specific needs of a given company’s workforce. (For example, it makes little sense to offer a smoking cessation program if only six percent of all employees actually smoke. By the same token, if a large percentage of workers are also parents, offering perks like on-site daycare or nursing rooms for new mothers can go a long way toward fostering employee wellness.)

In addition to considering the demographics of the employee population, wellness teams should set general goals to create a successful well-being strategy. These may include typical ROI measures, such as reducing health care costs by 10 percent or cutting employee absenteeism rates, as well as measurable outcomes for employees, such as improved Health Risk Assessment results or reporting lower levels of stress on internal surveys.

For a helpful framework to guide strategic planning, WELCOA (The Wellness Council of America) has established a set of seven benchmarks of results-oriented workplace wellness programs. These include:

  • Capturing CEO support
  • Creating cohesive wellness teams
  • Collecting data to drive health efforts
  • Carefully crafting an operating plan
  • Choosing appropriate interventions
  • Creating a supportive environment
  • Carefully evaluating outcomes

WELCOA’s Well Workplace model has been adopted by more than 1,000 companies across the U.S., and detailed articles for achieving each of its benchmarks is available on its website at www.welcoa.org/services/build/welcoas-seven-benchmarks.

Very few organizations are at the level where they are utilizing all seven benchmarks, but the information provides a useful outline for planning wellness programs and thinking proactively about making employee well-being a business best practice. Wellness today is more than an annual health fair or free gym membership—and it is more than a retention and recruiting tool. When done right, wellness programs educate and motivate employees to live healthier and more fulfilling lives, giving them a greater sense of value and purpose.

This document is not intended to be taken as advice regarding any individual situation and should not be relied upon as such. Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC shall have no obligation to update this publication and shall have no liability to you or any other party arising out of this publication or any matter contained herein. Any statements concerning actuarial, tax, accounting or legal matters are based solely on our experience as consultants and are not to be relied upon as actuarial, accounting, tax or legal advice, for which you should consult your own professional advisors. Any modeling analytics or projections are subject to inherent uncertainty and the analysis could be materially affective if any underlying assumptions, conditions, information or factors are inaccurate or incomplete or should change.

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