Lead Letter: Wellness Programs at Work Produce Results if Well Crafted
Making Workplace Wellness Count
Written by Dick Resch
Going to the gym is about to get a lot more expensive. The share of companies offering wellness programs dropped 13 percent this year.
These programs - which often include subsidized gym memberships, free fitness trackers, and bonuses for losing weight - keep employees healthy, thereby cutting medical and insurance expenses. At least that's the theory.
In practice, many companies aren't seeing a return on their wellness investments. So they're ditching the programs.
That's a mistake. Employers can save themselves millions through wellness programs. They just need to find ways to boost workers' low participation rates.
Properly designed wellness programs pad companies' bottom lines. Every dollar spent on wellness programs reduces medical costs by over $3, according to a Health Affairs study. And 40 percent of employees reported higher productivity levels when participating in such programs.
Right now, four in 10 workers opt out.
In response to such concerns, some companies are bringing healthy choices right to workers' offices.
For instance, Blue Shield California stocks the cafeteria with nutritious food and provides sit-stand and treadmill desks, so employees can move around throughout the day.
Reforms as simple as letting employees use lunch breaks to visit a nearby gym could dramatically increase participation.
Other businesses are relying on teamwork. At Bazaarvoice, a software service company in Austin, Texas. employees earn points - redeemable for gift cards and other perks - for healthy behaviors, such as undergoing yearly checkups or exercising.
Employees gain more points when they complete group activities, such as attending a fitness class with their team. Since implementing this team-based framework, participation has skyrocketed. Management anticipates reduced insurance and medical costs as a result.
My company, furniture manufacturer KI, measures and rewards employees individually. We set specific goals for each employee based on an initial health screening. If they meet their benchmarks, they earn back a portion of their health insurance premiums. KI boasts a nearly 100 percent wellness program participation rate.
We spend $2.2 million on the wellness program and save $3.3 million a year on insurance premiums - a return on investment of 50 percent. Our annual health costs per employee are also 24 percent lower than the national average.
If companies aren't reaping benefits from their wellness programs, they should first look to boost participation before axing the initiatives. Companies can't simply hand out Fitbits - they need to find ways to ensure the fitness trackers wind up on employees' wrists, instead of in their dressers.
Dick Resch, CEO of KI,
Green Bay, Wis.