The term “wellness program” most often conjures up images of rarely used gym memberships, interoffice weight loss competitions and wilting fruit in the breakroom, but the truth is, employee wellness should be about truly taking care of employees. To be successful, the program must go beyond the standard health-related initiatives that are often used primarily to check a box and sweeten employee benefit packages. By developing a program that enriches all elements of an employee’s wellbeing companies will benefit from a healthier, more engagement and productive workforce.
A Multifaceted Approach
Tackling physical issues is an important part of employee wellness but the focus cannot stop there. Things like mental health, behavioral health and financial stability can greatly impact a person’s overall well-being and ultimately work outcomes.
One of the more unique services we offer at Equality Health is bringing financial planners onsite to assist employees with things like debt consolidation and understanding their tax options. An employee who is facing a financial crisis cannot be 100 percent focused on the job and the stress and anxiety can lead to significant medical issues. Many companies are even implementing programs that help employees pay off student debt.
Mental health is another factor that needs to be taken into consideration. The first step is to create a company culture that destigmatizes mental and behavioral health issues. A study conducted by the World Health Organization found that depression ranked first among conditions most costly to employers, with anxiety taking the fifth spot and obesity, arthritis and back and neck pain filling in the second through fourth slots. Additionally, research has found that the indirect costs of mental health disorders – like absenteeism and loss of productivity – outweigh hard costs such as insurance.
An employee assistance program (EAP) is a great way to address these types of issues and often include things like legal help and counseling. The trick is getting employees to take advantages of these services. Aside from ensuring they are aware of what the EAP provides, an important first step is to remove the shame. Create an environment where employees are encouraged to discuss mental health issues and feel free to seek the help they need without negative ramifications.
Another way to ensure employees are utilizing any type of wellness service is to bring it on site. Things like flu shots, biometric screenings and financial or legal experts can easily be hosted at your office. This helps remove some of the stigma and makes it convenient for employees to participate.
As HR professionals, we are committed to focusing on people first and helping them become their best self. We enter this field wanting to make a difference and knowing that cost savings, retention and better work are a byproduct of truly taking care of our employees. However, exceptional wellness programs don’t come cheap and communicating the value proposition is a common challenge faced by HR teams everywhere. These programs are not free, and companies struggling to develop new and meaningful wellness programs have to first obtain C-Suite buy-in.
Quantifying An Unhealthy Workforce
The first step is to show the true value of the program. Looking at wellness through the lens of a CEO or COO – what’s the ROI? To answer this, certain data points need to be determined:
- The cost of a workplace accident or injured worker
- The cost of absenteeism and presenteeism
- The cost of recruiting, hiring and training new employees
As those in the HR field know well, the company’s most expensive commodity is its employees. That said, it is in a CEO or COO’s best interest to invest in initiatives that keep employees healthy, sober, mentally balanced and with stable blood sugar and blood pressure levels.
Let’s take diabetes prevention programs as an example. According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 7 million people in the United States have undiagnosed diabetes. Additionally, the association estimates diabetes costs $69 billion in reduced productivity each year.
Imagine a forklift driver who is experiencing vision problems, bouts of dizziness or lack of coordination due to hypoglycemia, or the office worker who is unable to focus or experiencing irritability and moments of confusion. At best, these episodes can cause loss of productivity. But too often, undiagnosed and/or untreated issues with blood sugar is the root cause of workplace accidents and serious injury. This now becomes a dangerous situation and puts the company at high risk.
What if companies could help employees detect, properly treat and even prevent the onset of this disease? Now you have a wellness program that protects your bottom line.
Investing in Diabetes prevention is about more than holding the disease at bay, diabetes can lead to more serious (and costly) conditions such as cardiovascular disease, loss of vision, kidney damage and permanent nerve damage.
By providing programs to ward off and/or treat diabetes, employers can help keep their workforce healthy and reduce costs associated with ill employees.
By disrupting the standard thought process around what a wellness program looks like and developing a curriculum that encompasses whole-person care, HR managers can help employees feel, and be their best self. The outcome of this person-center approach is a more productive, focused workforce and increased protection for the organization’s bottom line.
Kim Samuel is the vice president of People and Culture at Equality Health. In this role, she leads all aspects of Equality Health’s people initiatives and employee experience, including staffing and onboarding, employee relations, benefits, compensation, and employee outreach in our community.