Harvard researchers find that for every dollar a company spends on its wellness program, medical costs fall by about $3.27 and absentee day costs fall by about $2.73. If you want to take advantage of these savings, you’ll need to know how to create and run a successful wellness program that meets the needs of your employees.
Starting Your Wellness Program
There isn’t a specific plan that will meet the needs of every company. That’s why you need to do some research to identify the most pressing needs within your business.
Start by forming a committee that can do this research, meet regularly to discuss progress, and set aside some of the workweek to discuss the program. Try to include people from as many departments as possible. Committee members might include an employee representative, someone from HR, and the lunchroom manager. If some people in your organization have special skills, such as a background in nutrition or perhaps teaching exercise classes, try to get them involved.
The committee can begin gathering information by:
• conducting employee surveys to find out what topics interest them most
• asking employees about their current lifestyle choices (do they smoke? Do they exercise regularly? How often do they visit the doctor for checkups?)
• finding out how often employees exercise
This information will help you form a wellness program that appeals to your employees.
While surveying employees, keep HIPAA regulations in mind so that you don’t accidentally break the law.
Create Programs That Address Pressing Needs
Image via Flickr by sophiea
Once your committee knows what health issues impact employees the most, it can start building programs that will help people make healthier choices.
Many companies start with smoking cessation programs. Employees who smoke are absent from work more often than non-smoking colleagues. They also have lower productivity and can increase the cost of health insurance benefits.
The CDC reports that over 1/3 of adults are obese. Medical costs for obese people are about $1,429 higher per year. Obesity rates vary by area, but many companies start wellness programs intended to help employees manage weight.
Design Realistic Programs
A wellness program can’t change someone overnight. Keep your expectations realistic so employees can move toward their health goals.
Designing a realistic wellness program will help people stay focused and motivated.
For your weight-loss program, you could:
• start a walking group that meets before work or during breaks
• offer a safe place where people can store bikes at work
• fill the vending machine with healthy options
• serve healthy snacks at meetings
• open an office gym or subsidize gym memberships for employees
Many companies have also found success in pedometer competitions. Give your employees pedometers that will keep track of how far they walk. At the end of a week, month, or other timeframe, compare the results to see who walked farthest.
Smoking cessation programs also need realistic objectives. Joining a program doesn’t mean that someone will stop smoking overnight. Create a program that:
• encourages smokers to reduce the amount of cigarettes they smoke per day
• offers free or discounted nicotine replacement products
• gives employees access to a mental health professional so they can learn to cope with withdrawal
• meets frequently to provide on-going support to people trying to quit
Bring a Doctor to the Office
You might have some great ideas for your wellness plan, but you need a medical professional who can tell you whether your ideas are safe and effective. Invite a doctor to the office so she can briefly review each person’s health status.
In addition to helping you create a healthier wellness program, the doctor could also spot conditions that the average person wouldn’t see. By catching health problems early, employees have a greater chance of recovering sooner.
Motivate Your Employees
Motivation comes in many forms. You could keep your employees motivated by:
• lowering their health insurance costs when they participate in your wellness program
• provide personalized bags to encourage them to bring lunch to work instead of eating out
• acknowledge when someone meets a goal with a promotional gift
• hold weekly or monthly meetings to keep people interested in the wellness program
• keep introducing new programs so employees have a variety of options
• send employees regular emails that support healthy lifestyles
People often make dramatic changes in their lives, and then quickly find themselves reverting to their old ways. Without the right motivation, your wellness program might not provide long-term results.
If you have difficulty motivating your employees, ask them what would help. You might also want to contact a professional who has set up several wellness programs. They might have ideas that you’ve never considered.
Evaluate Your Program Often
Your committee needs to evaluate the effectiveness of its wellness program fairly often. Keep objective data that will help you determine whether you’ve met your goals or whether you need to make changes. Some data to track includes:
• How many people take advantage of the program
• How many people complete the program versus how many quit
• How much money you spend on the wellness program
• Whether your workforce’s productivity, healthiness, and absenteeism improves
It can take several months for a wellness program’s benefits to pay off. Don’t expect miracles. Just because your weight-loss group hasn’t dropped much (or any) weight after a month doesn’t necessarily mean you need to redesign the program. If you don’t get any results after six months, though, you know you need a better approach.
Keep Publicizing Wellness in the Office
You don’t want a wellness program that starts strong but then fizzles out. Instead, continue to publicize your programs so employees know their options. Your company might hire new people every day. If it takes those new employees a month to learn about your smoking cessation and weight-loss plans, then you aren’t publicizing them enough.
Make posters, send emails, and mention your programs at meetings. If people don’t know about your wellness program, they can’t participate!
What concerns worry you most as you prepare to create a wellness program at work? Are you more worried about starting the program or making it work for years to come?
Author Jane is a freelance writer who loves to write about anything from tech to mommy stuff. She is featured in many blogs as a guest writer, and can write with authority on any niche or subject..