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Three keys to long-range workplace wellness

Workplace wellness programs, when properly implemented, can save a business a good deal of money over time, according to a recent longitudinal study at the University of Michigan.Workplace Wellness Keyboard and Apple 12-14-10

Still, more than 66 percent of employers indicate that the poor health habits of employees are a top challenge to maintaining affordable benefit coverage for their workforce.

In other words, the greatest opportunity to reduce your company’s health care costs is also the greatest obstacle: employee behavior. Sound like a Catch-22? The solution just may be employee engagement, and there are three keys that can help your company develop a stronger wellness ethic:


1. Change Your (then their) Mindset
2. Right-Size the Wellness Program
3. Design for Sustainability


Change Your (then their) Mindset

“But…Poor Health Habits Are Who We Are!”

Company mindset is critical to workplace wellness.

Fast food restaurants are an example of an industry that you might think would not be a hotbed for employee wellness programs.

But fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A proves otherwise.

It is a company in a notoriously “unhealthy” industry, but its wellness program is a national model, both in employee participation and in ROI.

It’s proof that no industry is “exempt” from encouraging healthy employees. If a company like this can change a seemingly entrenched mindset, any company can.

Leaders in the workplace should adopt a proactive, positive mindset toward wellness and employee engagement. 

Right-Size the Wellness Program

“We are too small (or too big) to provide a cost-effective wellness program.”

Company size is a common excuse for wellness program resistance and low employee participation. Small companies simply don’t have the budget for a large employee fitness center or a health-food-focused cafeteria. Large companies have workforce scale issues that complicate and confound even the most battle-hardened actuaries. 

But in the end, the size excuse is just that. An excuse.

After all, if Verizon Wireless (65,000 employees) can effectively manage employee intramural sports, nutrition counseling and exercise programs , other large companies have no excuse.  Thousands of healthier employees should, over time and on balance, equal thousands of reductions in employer costs associated with health care benefits.

Alternatively, small companies can take note from Oregon’s Tec Labs, which simply incorporated employee wellness during the construction of its new headquarters. Upon discovering about one-third of its 42 employees enjoyed playing basketball, Tec Labs’ leadership included an on-site court in the construction process. The point isn’t the basketball court, the point is that the company was small enough to get to know its employees’ fitness tendencies and responded accordingly.

So, the answer to the “too small/big” myth is to right-size your wellness program.


Design for Sustainability

“Our last wellness initiative was short-lived hype.”

Many new wellness programs start off with great fanfare and enthusiasm, only to wither down to an easily ignored (and sometimes costly) “wellness website” after the initial shine wears off. If your company has been burned by or simply burned out on a wellness program in the past, it likely isn’t the concept that was the problem, but the execution. And you aren’t alone.

A recent study by the National Institute for Health Care Reform discovered that:

“Behavior modification programs offered in isolation don’t have a strong track record. Participants who quit smoking or lose weight often revert to former behaviors.”

Surprisingly, the study also indicated that strict financial incentives for measurable targets, such as pounds lost during the course of a program may backfire on an annual basis if proper steps aren’t taken. Someone who lost the most weight in year one of a program may unintentionally be incented to gain the weight back only to attempt to lose it again in year two.

The study determined that “programs that are comprehensive, integrated and diversified stand the best chance of success.”

So, sustainability should be by design.

Implementing and maintaining an employee wellness program with good outcomes and cost effectiveness is not only possiblem but likely if you can change mindset, develop a program appropriate to the size and culture of your company and build it for the long run.


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