The Surprising Benefits of Corporate Wellness Programs

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Benefits of corporate wellness programs infographic

Corporate wellness programs are growing in popularity, and for employers and employees alike, that’s a good thing. 

From measurable increases in health care savings to decreases in employee attrition, the numbers don’t lie. 

Studies have shown that corporate wellness programs increase productivity at work by lessening the time employees are not at work or underperforming while at work due to illness and stress. For participating employees, these programs can lower health risk and boost morale. 

Whether looking into how to improve employee performance or how to create a healthy work environment, investing in employee wellness may be the answer.

Commonly Asked Questions About Workplace Wellness Programs

As corporate wellness programs increase in popularity, more and more research is coming out about their impact on a business’ bottom line. And the results look promising.

Q: Who Has Corporate Wellness Programs?

A: Reports estimate between 60-70%, or roughly 2/3, of businesses have some type of wellness initiative. While typically a fixture of larger corporations, wellness programs are becoming increasingly common in small and mid-size businesses as well.

Q: How Do They Save Money? And How Much Do They Save?

A: The answer really depends on how comprehensive and effective the program is. But corporate wellness programs can limit costs in two primary areas: health expenses and lost productivity. 

Most wellness programs are designed to limit unhealthy behaviors while promoting and rewarding healthy ones. When they work, they can improve diet, increase physical activity, decrease stress and more. That, in turn, may reduce costly healthcare expenditures for both the employer and the employee. Savings in healthcare costs as high as $6 per dollar spent on wellness initiatives were reported in one study by the Harvard Business Review. Add that to a reduction in lost productivity costs due to illness (more on that below), and it’s easy to see how the savings add up quickly. 

Even small in-office interventions—like replacing the breakroom soda machine with an assortment of still and sparkling waters that put healthy hydration first—can change behavior for the better.

Q: How Do They Increase Productivity at Work?

A: In short, people work better when they are well. An effective wellness program can lead to decreases in both absenteeism and presenteeism.

Absenteeism is when employees are out due to illness. Think: sick days. The Center for Disease Control estimates that common chronic conditions and health risk factors (obesity, hypertension, lack of physical activity, etc.) are responsible for about $2 billion in absenteeism costs each. The good news is that every dollar spent on strong wellness programs can save nearly $3 in absenteeism-related costs.3

While the hard costs of absenteeism have been widely studied and measured, its cousin, presenteeism, is a newly recognized phenomenon and thus a little harder to quantify. Presenteeism is when workers are at work but can’t perform at their highest level due to illness and stress. Rough estimations suggest it could be responsible for $150 billion in lost productivity every year.

Strong corporate wellness programs can decrease monetary losses from both by enabling employees to be well enough to reach their full potential at work.

Q: Do Current and Prospective Employees Even Want Them?

A: Based on increased retention rates, it would appear that they do. But that doesn’t mean every wellness program will be immediately adopted and popular. An effective wellness program is key.

According to Harvard Business Review, turnover was only about 9% among companies with highly effective wellness programs (It was 16% at those with less effective ones).

A survey from the Principal Financial Well-being Index found 45% percent of employees at small and mid-size companies said a strong employer-sponsored wellness program would keep them at their jobs longer.

As for prospective employees, problems with managers, culture and other factors that contribute to an unhealthy work environment are often cited as a reason for leaving a job. Benefits overall are the second highest reason cited for switching jobs, right behind better compensation. Sure, hosting a health fair once a year may not get prospects knocking at the door. But a supportive and healthy work environment that allows for work-life balance, rewards an active lifestyle and offers water may get Millennial talent to stop and take notice.

Go Beyond the Numbers

Of course, not everything can be measured in dollars and cents. Anecdotal evidence shows that really great workplace wellness programs can boost employee morale and build trust.

The best initiatives are the ones that create a culture of wellness within the business—one that supports employees’ efforts to live healthier lives and provides the tools to do that.

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