For employers, wellness has become an important tool in the efforts to hold back the tide of ever-increasing benefit expenses. But there is mounting evidence that wellness can be much more than a cost-containment strategy. Many employers are discovering its profound and positive effect on employees and the overall workplace culture. It’s no coincidence that organizations identified as best places to work are more likely to offer broad-based wellness programs, which typically include wellness screenings, health questionnaires, lifestyle management programs, targeted benefit plan designs, as well as incentives and rewards.

As these employers experience success, other organizations are following suit and embracing the trend. According to the Aflac Workforce study, the number of businesses offering wellness increased 11% from 2011 to 2013. In terms of an organization’s ROI, 61% of respondents surveyed said wellness programs have a direct and positive impact on profitability.

Additionally, the research shows that employees who work for businesses with wellness initiatives say they like their jobs more—67% believe their employers take care of them. The same percentage say they’re extremely or very likely to recommend their workplace to others. When a wellness program goes beyond what happens within the walls of a business and becomes a positive external message that boosts its reputation and attracts talent, that’s powerful.

For workers searching for a great place to work, employee benefits and wellness are becoming important factors in their decision. Not only should employers anticipate questions related to salary and basic health and welfare benefits, they should also expect job candidates to ask about on-site gyms, gym discounts, reimbursements for WeightWatchers, and more. These benefits are no longer exclusively associated with larger employers. Workers have begun to expect robust, progressive wellness programs just about everywhere.

According to a study conducted by the Virgin Health Miles/Workforce Magazine, a striking 87 percent of employees say they consider health and wellness packages when choosing an employer. This is a significant factor in attracting top-tier talent. Wellness can be the difference between a prospective employee accepting a job offer or turning it down in favor of one from a competitor.

Once workers are on board, they appreciate the value of a good wellness program. The study shows that 70% of employees say wellness programs positively impact their work culture. Incentives drive participation, too; 78% of the study’s respondents say rewards are important and 61% say they’re a key reason to participate in the program.

So, wellness works in many ways. But here’s the catch: The greatest wellness program in the world won’t have the desired impact if details aren’t communicated well, tied into a benefit plan’s design, and effectively incented (carrot and/or stick) to engage employees. There are two distinct aspects to a wellness initiative.

  • Disease Management—metric bearing programs (e.g., biometrics, health assessments, online coaching, annual physicals, etc.)
  • Lifestyle Management—activities and programs (e.g., walking, weight management, stress management, etc.) that promote and support the primary disease management initiatives.

Any component of a wellness program will have minimal impact if it’s promoted by just one memo or poster. It needs to be communicated often and in an easy-to-understand and impactful way. Consistency and repetition are key. The value and ROI of a wellness program is dependent upon creating and executing a holistic broad-based strategy that is wrapped up in a tight and easily understood package. The message must be continuously integrated into an organization’s culture through regular communications throughout the year, every year. 
Our clients often tell us they want to be a “best (healthiest) place to work” because they believe it will help their recruiting efforts. They’re right! Wellness can help recruiting efforts, but only if a program is well planned and executed.

Cassidy is director of wellness with Corporate Synergies, a national group employee benefits insurance broker.

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