Corporate Wellness and ROI: 5 Misconceptions

Still looking for reasons to implement an employee-wellness program? Start with a focus on your company’s bottom line.

By Greg Justice

The most valuable asset of any business is its work force … and productivity is the key. In a nutshell, the healthier employees are, the more and better work they can do, and the better their quality of life will be. Happy employees create healthy companies. The recognition of this truism has led to a business practice generally known as “corporate wellness.”

But, the world of corporate wellness is full of misconceptions regarding programs that encourage and promote wellness. So let’s dispel five common misconceptions about corporate wellness by tackling them one at a time:

1. Health-care costs are going up, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Health-care costs are rising, but a sound corporate wellness program provides an opportunity to minimize the effects on business. Many factors contribute to the increase of healthcare costs and related health-insurance costs. Many of them are beyond our control. What is within our control is utilization (the frequency and level expenses associated with use of health-care insurance benefits). The healthier the group, the better the insurance rates. This also applies to workers‘ compensation costs. The fewer injuries, the less expensive the workers’ compensation insurance will be. Savings from workers’ compensation and health-insurance costs for healthy workers can range from 10-30 percent compared to others in the same industry whose employees are less healthy.

2. What employees do on their own time is none of the company’s business. Although this may sound like an appropriate separation of personal and professional life, think about the benefits to the individual and business. Let’s say an employee comes to work reeking of alcohol in the morning after a night of partying. Even if they’re not actually drunk, their ability to function, as well as concerns about their influence on other staff, has to be taken into consideration. If you see this activity two or three times in a month, you may suspect that the employee has a substance-abuse problem. Is it the company’s “business” yet? What an employee does on personal time does impact behavior in the workplace. An employee’s lifestyle definitely impacts insurance, benefits, workers’ compensation costs, and productivity. The reality is that employers historically do not view wellness and lifestyle behavior as impacting profits and productivity, but they can.

3. People get sick. It’s out of their control. Many illnesses are a result of lifestyle choices. Diseases such as cancer, stroke, heart disease, lung disease and diabetes do not always occur wholly by way of bad luck. They can often develop due to chronic neglect or abuse of the body. Note that the six of the top seven causes of death in the U.S. are among the so-called “lifestyle diseases.” The one exception is automobile accidents. A person’s wellness, from the common cold to more serious diseases, or repetitive stress injuries, is often a result of lifestyle choices.

4. It takes too much time. Management involvement is a must for a wellness program to be successful. However, it doesn’t need to be that time-consuming. Vendors are available to take care of all program details, from setting up and running a program to measuring the results. As for employee time commitment, much of what employees can do to participate is done outside of working hours. If an employer is inclined to allow extra time in the workday for their employees to exercise, so much the better.

5. It’s too hard to know if it’s working. When you set up your wellness program, you can (and should) also determine what you want to achieve. Productivity metrics, health-care cost reduction, and reduced on-the-job injuries will provide statistical evidence of the program’s effectiveness over time. Here’s just one example from the Harvard Business Review. “Since 1995, the percentage of Johnson & Johnson employees who smoke has dropped by more than two-thirds. The number who have high blood pressure or who are physically inactive also has declined—by more than half.

That’s great, obviously, but should it matter to managers? Well, it turns out that a comprehensive, strategically designed investment in employees’ social, mental, and physical health pays off. J&J’s leaders estimate that wellness programs have cumulatively saved the company $250 million on health-care costs over the past decade; from 2002 to 2008, the return was $2.71 for every dollar spent.”

About the author

Greg Justice is the owner of AYC Health & Fitness in Prairie Village, Kan.

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