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Workplace Wellness: Improve Employee Performance and Reduce Health Insurance Costs

By May 9, 2018April 16th, 2019No Comments

As employers like you continue to look for ways to manage rising healthcare costs, many are turning to wellness programs to improve employees’ well-being and to help manage or prevent chronic conditions.

According to a recent study from Health Affairs, a health care policy journal, for every dollar spent on wellness, medical costs drop an average of $3.27 and absenteeism costs fall by $2.73.

If developed and implemented effectively, your company could achieve a similar return on investment (ROI) on your wellness initiatives.

Why Wellness?

Wellness affects your company’s bottom line in many ways – in particular, it can lower health insurance costs, increase productivity, decrease absenteeism and raise employee morale.

Because employees spend many of their waking hours at work, the workplace is the perfect setting to address health and wellness issues.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) promotes the formation of workplace wellness programs because, according to one of its studies, employees in companies with “a strong culture of health” are three times more likely to actively strive to improve their health.

Wellness Programs Help Control Health Insurance Costs

Healthcare costs are likely one of the most significant components of your company’s budget, so strategically targeting this expense can improve your bottom line.

Employees with more health risk factors, including being overweight, being a smoker and having diabetes, cost more to insure and they pay more for healthcare than employees with fewer risk factors.

Your wellness program can help employees with high risk factors make the lifestyle changes to improve their quality of life and reduce healthcare costs, while also helping employees with fewer risk factors stay healthy.

Set Your Wellness Initiatives

There’s a myriad of ways to incorporate wellness into your company, whether making small, incremental changes or introducing larger programs.

But in order to realize improved employee health and a good return on investment (ROI), you need to choose the right wellness program for your company.

Success is dependent on both employee engagement and support from all levels of management.

To choose the right program, determine your company’s needs and resources and match that with the appropriate type of wellness programs.

Pre-Implementation Phase: Determine Employee Needs and Interests

Assess your workplace to determine your employees’ health problems and fitness levels, as well as their interest in different types of wellness programs.

There are three main resources you can use to collect wellness information:

  1. Employee Health Risk Assessments (HRAs), which is an electronic or paper health questionnaire that asks a series of questions about one’s medical history and lifestyle to identify health risks. (Typically administered by an outside vendor)
  2. Health Culture Audits, which help determine how your company’s culture relates to your employees’ health and productivity by assessing items such as health norms and your employees’ attitudes about health and well-being as it relates to your company.
  3. Personal Interest Surveys, which are designed to uncover the interests and health needs of your employees.

These tools can provide you with insight into the health and wellness needs of your employees so you can design a wellness program that resonates best with your employees.

Depending on your data, areas of focus for a wellness program may include disease prevention, fitness, smoking cessation, alcohol and substance abuse counseling, nutrition education, mental health help, weight loss and stress management.

In order to engage employees, your wellness program must fit what they perceive to be a need and must be something that they are willing to participate in.

If your employees don’t see a benefit, you will have extremely low engagement and participation.

Upper Management Support = The Key to Wellness Program Success

For a wellness program to succeed, your leadership team must also be invested in the wellness program idea.

To ensure the support of management, inform managers about the program early on and encourage them to participate. Communicate the program’s goals and benefits clearly and often.

Gaining upper-level management support will give you easier access to sufficient resources and will give your staff time to develop and implement your wellness program.

You also need support from upper management in order to set an example through their participation program. The participation of direct managers throughout your organization is also important because they will be able to encourage engagement among all employees, increasing the ROI of your program through widespread involvement.

Put Your Wellness Plan in Writing

An annual operating plan is important for your program’s success and should include a mission statement along with specific, measurable short- and long-term goals and objectives.

Your written plan provides continuity when members of the wellness committee change and is instrumental in holding the team accountable to the goals, objectives and timeline agreed upon.

Develop a Wellness Operating Plan

All successful workplace wellness programs share an outcome-oriented operating plan.

Your operating plan is important to your business for several reasons:

  • It links wellness initiatives to company needs and strategic priorities
  • It legitimizes the program, which increases the likelihood of continued resources and support
  • It provides continuity for the program when personnel changes occur
  • It serves as a means to evaluate the effectiveness of the programs


Your operating plan should include:

    • Vision Statement – which identifies a clear vision or mission statement that includes the values that drive your program along with the ultimate goals of accomplishments the program hopes to achieve.

    • Goals – which are the long-term accomplishments to be achieved from the program. To be attainable they should be realistic, reflect the needs of both management and employees, and flow naturally from the data collected.
  • Objectives – which are strategies you can implement to achieve your goals. Like goals, they should include specific action steps and timelines, and be written so that it’s clear whether or not they have been accomplished.
  • Timeline – which develops a realistic timeframe to implement and evaluate your workplace wellness program. The timeline should incorporate key dates contained int he objectives and goals.
  • Budget – It takes resources to implement a wellness program. Your budget may include such items as salaries, program materials, administrative needs, outside vendors, evaluation and the costs associated with incentives. A detailed budget is essential during the evaluation process so you can compare program costs to outcomes.
  • Communication Plan – Communicate your program to raise employee awareness of the program and drive participation. Your operating plan should address the types of marketing efforts that will be used to inform employees about your wellness plan. Specific communication techniques will vary depending on the size of your company and your budget. The following are effective but low-cost communication methods:
      • Involve employees in the planning and implementation process.
      • Involve the company president to encourage participation.
      • Use email, intranet postings, bulletin boards and company newsletters.
      • Make the program fun by using a creative name and providing incentives.
  • Implementation Plan – This section of the operating plan will provide detailed information about implementing workplace wellness initiatives and will assign individual responsibilities associated with the offerings.
  • Evaluation Plan –  The final section should address how you will measure the success of your program. Ideally, evaluation will include measuring how well the program is working and whether it is achieving its expected results. Participation rate, participant evaluations and surveys are all good evaluation tools.

Identify the Types of Wellness Programs That Best Fit Your Company

After assessing your company and writing out your wellness plan, begin thinking about the types of programs you want to offer within your Wellness program.

Wellness programs can focus on various areas, such as physical activity or nutrition, and they can be designed with different levels of time commitment and necessary support.

Your program can encompass an extremely broad range of activities and initiatives in the workplace, and universally accepted definitions or categories have not yet emerged.

However, wellness programs can generally be categorized based on the level of effort and time commitment necessary to make them successful, as well as the type of activities included in the program.

There’s three general categories of wellness programs: screening events, health education and promotional activities, and prevention and intervention measures.

Screening Events:

The least-involved and easiest types of wellness programs for employers are screening activities. These are health risk assessments which can take the form of self-administered questionnaires or biometric screenings.

The goal of these programs is to give employees information on their health status and possibly prompt changes to achieve better health.

Biometric screenings can often be set up through your health plan provider, making screenings one of the least costly and time-consuming programs available.

Health Education and Promotion Activities:

These wellness programs will require a little more investment in time and financial resources because they may require corporate changes and outside resources.

You can consider providing educational sessions and materials for employee groups, or you might provide individual or group counseling sessions for topics like smoking cessation or alcohol and drug abuse.

Other types of wellness programs may include changing policies or procedures around the workplace, such as switching to healthier cafeteria or vending machine offerings, or promoting walking meetings instead of conference room meetings. These wellness programs aim to improve employee morale and education as well as prompt some behavioral changes.

Prevention and Intervention Measures:

Wellness programs that attempt to reach wellness goals and achieve lifestyle changes are the most involved and resource-laden type of programs. These wellness programs might include a weight-loss initiative, a walking competition or similar ideas that attempt to influence employee behavior.

Typically these programs require an up-front investment by the employer when planning, bringing in outside counselors or resources, providing any necessary equipment and offering various incentives or rewards for participants as they meet their fitness goals.

This type of highly involved program will likely see the best ROI, but it needs a high level of support from management and high employee engagement in order to be successful.

Bottom Line

Developing an effective workplace wellness program will help your company lower health care costs, increase productivity and boost employee morale.

All of which can contribute to protecting your company’s bottom line and keeping your employees happy.

If you’re starting from scratch, we recommend start small, and use the tools and resources we have available to help get you started.

Next Step

Let’s chat.

My name’s Ty Reid and I’m the Director of Worksite Benefits here at The O’Neill Group. I’d love to discuss your employee benefits program, and how you envision workplace wellness fitting into your broader, benefits strategy.

{{cta(‘c9e136c3-ceb5-4e91-aa6b-8f5a5d609941’)}} This article was adapted from Zywave. This is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice.