Wellness programming means different things to different organizations. Effective wellness initiatives can be as simple as bringing bushel baskets of fresh fruit into break rooms to encourage better eating. They can be as extensive as building fitness facilities onsite or paying for obesity treatments.
A driving factor behind the push toward wellness spans organizations of all
types, sizes and cultures: that is, health care expenses are spilling over the
business belt buckle. The annual cost of medical services in the U.S. is rising
at seven times the rate of inflation. And the rise in medical costs is one boom
pundits expect our economy to sustain.1
This trend makes it increasingly challenging for employers to maintain current
levels of insurance coverage. In 2003, health care inflation forced 65 percent
of organizations to increase employees’ share of health costs.
Seventy-nine percent of large firms said they will increase workers’
share of health costs in 2004.2 But with lost benefits and increased financial
burdens come lost morale and productivity.
Employers are searching for another way. While organizations cannot control
many of the supply-side elements contributing to rising health care costs—malpractice
insurance rates, the nursing shortage—they can help curb demand. That’s
why efforts are being redirected from illness to wellness.
The case for Employee Wellness Programs is supported by an ever growing body
of evidence demonstrating the high costs associated with controllable health
- One study reports that obesity raises health care costs by 36 percent and
medication costs by 77 percent.
- Michigan officials estimate physical inactivity cost the state nearly $8.9
billion in 2002, a cost estimated to be largely borne by employers through
insurance premiums and lost productivity.
- The not-for-profit National Committee for Quality Assurance reports that
the estimated average cost for postnatal care for women who did not receive
prenatal care was $2,341 more than for women who had. And the indirect costs
of unhealthful behavior can be just as high.
Data shows that healthier employees are more productive, spending more time
at work and showing increased “presenteeism,” or productivity, while
there. Further, healthier employees use fewer medical services. The five leading
causes of death in the U.S. — heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease and diabetes — are directly linked to unhealthy lifestyles.
Clearly, encouraging healthful habits presents an opportunity to improve employees’
well being, reduce the need for health care services and help control costs.
Offering staff member wellness benefits — large or small — represents
an intersection between business social responsibility and responsibility to
stakeholders. Between staff member health and corporate health. It’s often
the right thing to do for employees and employers.
Research by Traveler’s Corp. shows a $3.40 return for every dollar invested
in Employee Wellness Programs. For many organizations, the choice to offer staff
member wellness benefits is easy—one where conscience and pragmatism align.
The challenge arises in selecting the initiatives that will deliver the most
impact based on trends in your employees’ health risks and medical claims
costs. From large organizations to the corner deli, corporation owners welcome
ways to boost productivity, reduce rates of absence and cut costs. Likewise,
Employee Wellness Programs can range from modest to elaborate.
In determining where to focus a corporation’s limited resources, looking
at costs, benefits and best practices is a good starting point. This section
profiles six aspects of wellness and explores their benefits to employees and