In today’s uncertain economic market, many employers are no longer able to offer benefits such as large bonuses or merit increases, unlimited expense accounts, or all-expenses paid retreats and conferences. One benefit that employers seem more willing to invest in, however, is the wellness of their employees.
According to the latest MetLife Annual Employee Benefits Trends Study the number of corporate wellness programs, which encourage employees to work toward preventing the onset or aggravation of a health condition and to adopt a healthier lifestyle, have increased steadily over the past few years. About 75% of companies with 500 or more employees offer such programs. These wellness programs have proven to be beneficial both for the employer and employee.
Benefits of Physical Activity
Scientific research has shown that regular physical activity can lower the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and even some cancers. It can also lower blood pressure; help build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints; and promote emotional well-being.
Many jobs involve hours spent in an office chair in front of a computer, offering little time or opportunity for physical activity. Some people find ways to sneak physical activity into their work day by stepping away from the desk and taking quick walks or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Daily activity, in addition to good nutrition and sleep habits can have an enormous impact on the attitude, productivity and overall physical and psychological health of an employee. A wellness/fitness program should be designed to improve or maintain cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and body composition.
Types of Wellness Programs
Some employers are able to offer on-site gym facilities to employees, while others may offer subsidies such as paying a percentage of both a gym initiation fee and monthly fees for employees. Employers can also encourage a healthy lifestyle by supporting flexible work schedules and creating an environment that encourages physical activity such as providing showers, locker rooms, bike racks, a safe area for walking or running, and healthy vending machine choices.
Important equipment to have in an on-site facility would include treadmills, stair climbers, stationary cycles, rowing machines, dumbbells, elastic bands for stretching, and exercise steps or benches. In the absence of an on-site gym, an auditorium or classroom area may be utilized for fitness classes such as aerobic exercise, stretching, weight lifting, yoga, Pilates, and boot camps, or for lectures on physical exercise and general fitness. Employers may also provide employee health screenings, health education, nutrition, and intervention programs such as smoking cessation and weight loss, and sponsor employee fitness challenges, incentives, and competitions.
Recently, incentive wellness programs that encourage employees to participate in their own preventive health care have become popular among employers. Various incentives such as medical insurance plans with lower deductibles and financial bonuses are offered to those employees motivated to work with a health adviser, enroll in a healthy living program, and participate in nutritional and exercise challenges.
Benefits for the Employer
Many employers who are no longer able to offer other expensive benefits still want to do something helpful for their employees. Offering an employee wellness program can benefit the employer in the following ways:
- decreases absenteeism and increases productivity as fewer employees take sick days or time off for medical appointments, and have fewer illnesses and injuries
- increases the retention rate of employees as they become healthier and choose to take advantage of the program offered
- saves money previously utilized for insurance claims, pharmacy costs, and health insurance premiums
- decreases workers’ compensation costs
- promotes a higher level of morale resulting in reduced stress and happier, more engaged employees
Studies have shown that more than half of the total health and productivity-related expenses that employers acquire are related to indirect medical costs of their employees, including absenteeism; disability; workers’ compensation costs; turnover; family medical leave; and on-the-job productivity loss. The National Business Group on Health in Washington, D.C. reports that studies have shown that for every $1 a company invests in a corporate wellness program, $3 is saved through fewer sick days, increased worker productivity, and employee retention.
Benefits for the Employee
A 2007 survey by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, found that 79% of its members felt that the current culture in America, including the daily pressures of family, work, and finances makes it difficult for people to exercise regularly and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Of these members, 89% stated that they would take advantage of an opportunity to improve their health in the workplace if their employer made such an offer. Employees can benefit from wellness programs in many ways such as:
- improvement in the management of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, pulmonary illnesses due to smoking, stress, and sleep conditions
- the need for fewer sick days and medical appointments
- potentially lowering the cost of health insurance premiums
- a feeling of being appreciated and valued as an employee resulting in higher morale, camaraderie, and self-confidence
- enhanced creativity and concentration
- an increased awareness of healthy choices in diet, exercise, and lifestyle
Healthy living is everyone’s responsibility and a healthy employee is one who assumes direct accountability for their lifestyle choices. The employee who chooses good nutrition, regular physical activity, good sleep habits, and the management of stress will benefit themselves, co-workers, and their employer.