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Three keys to successful wellness programs

What is wellness? If you ask 20 people, you’ll probably receive 20 different answers. The truth is, wellness in the workplace is a newer trend here in the Midwest, and many employers are still trying to figure out what it means to them.

Why should organizations have a wellness program and how can it benefit their organization? While programs themselves will vary from one business to the next, the results are indisputable.

  1. Reduce absenteeism and presenteeism – Healthy employees are less likely to miss work, and when they’re in the workplace they’re more attentive and engaged.
  2. Protect the aging workforce – In 2000, only 13 percent of the working population was over 55. By 2020, one in four American workers will be over 55.
  3. Lower health insurance costs – Employers with well and engaged employees on average see lower insurance renewal rates each year.

The first step is always the hardest, but if organizations are able to increase engagement and employee participation, they’ll see a drastic increase in the success of their wellness program and in turn the health of their employees. There are three things that successful wellness programs have in common:

1. Senior leadership buy-in

Studies show employees’ perception of organizational leadership support for wellness programs contributes to participation in wellness activities, perceived job stress levels, and health behaviors.

When leaders support wellness programs, they encourage engagement. One way to show support is to suggest wellness is in alignment with the corporate culture.

Give them facts. Show employees the numbers as to why employees should be proactive instead of reactive.

When leaders participate, they provide a role to play. This is as simple as ‘walking the talk’. For example, when word gets out that our 60+ year old owner is attending this week’s bootcamp, more employees attend!

2. Awareness & understanding

Employers need to understand their population. What do employees want out of a wellness program? What do employees need out of a wellness program? What are the day-to-day operations? How do you best communicate with employees? What is the age, gender, etc. of the population? Understanding these answers allows employers to customize a wellness program unique to their workforce.

The idea of health insurance can be cumbersome to many employees. A successful wellness program has an awareness of benefits offered and an understanding of how to utilize them in their life. What is currently offered in the employee benefits plan that is free and/or at a discounted rate? The national average for a “good” company is 40 percent of employees use the FREE preventative visits. Locally, only 20-25 percent utilizes free preventative visits.

Know your numbers. Employers should benchmark peers and their own population. Through the use of confidential employee surveys, they can identify areas of opportunity and gauge employee interest. Use this data to establish wellness programs that pinpoint tactics and opportunities designed to have the greatest impact on behavioral change and population health improvement.

3. Have a plan

“What gets measured, gets done.” On average, health insurance costs increase 3 percent annually per employee without an active wellness program. Putting one in place can be daunting, but will offer great rewards.

To begin, organizations should set realistic expectations for themselves. Pick one to two goals every year that are attainable for their population. The key is to continue building on those successes and sustain changed behavior for the future.

Some ideas for low-cost / no-cost wellness initiatives:

  • Employee interest survey and culture audit
  • Monthly wellness newsletter and/or calendar
  • Employee payroll stuffers and/or posters
  • Activities: walking programs, nutritional challenges, educational lunch & learns
  • Utilize community resources, vendor partnerships, and insurance company offerings.

Take the first step to a wellness program. Do something little: exchange an apple for a bag of chips or a water for a soda. At the core, a wellness program is doing something more today than you did yesterday. What will you do today?

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