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How workplace wellness programmes benefit business: latest research

The benefits of workplace wellness programmes

The majority of global employers have health promotion strategies, and according to Ho, an estimated 70% of employers offer wellness programmes. Research shows that workplace wellness programmes (also known as corporate wellness programmes) help create a win-win situation which has a positive impact on both employees and employers. Here are five key benefits.

Image: Wellness.

1. Reduced costs

Having healthy employees has clear financial benefits, and can drastically reduce healthcare costs for employers.

As Rucker states, “The notion that workplace wellness can reduce an organization’s costs is not a new concept. Employers have had a vested interest in providing preventive health-related services for almost a hundred years now.”

According to Ho, in the US, nearly 30% of adults are obese, 18% smoke cigarettes, and 23% do not get enough exercise. All of these factors increase risk and incidence of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer, creating billions of dollars of health-care costs

Wellness programmes help employees to adopt behaviours that improve their health, creating a happier, healthier workforce.

2. Reduced stress

Wellness programmes can help to reduce stress among employees. A 2015 New York Times article on health insurance company Aetna cites a 28% reduction in stress levels, a 20% improvement in sleep quality, and a 19% reduction in pain as a result of its mindfulness programmes.

Altizer notes that the popularization of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “mindfulness-based stress reduction” (MBSR) has been a major influence. Stress can lead to lower productivity, reduced morale, and even absenteeism. Altizer states, ‘‘the costs of stress and the needs for productivity and leadership for companies are only increasing and the potential contribution of mindfulness is tangible and attainable.’’

As well as reducing stress, mindfulness has been shown to improve memory and focus, reduce emotional reactivity, improve cognitive flexibility, and enhance self-insight.

3. Greater productivity

Research on involuntary wellness programmes with one large US media and education company demonstrates that wellness programmes have the potential to “reduce absenteeism, improve productivity and boost job satisfaction.”

Drury notes that a healthier workforce leads to less time off sick and better organizational performance. She states, “firms that encourage a ‘wellness culture’ are showing that they care about their employees – and can expect a payoff in terms of morale, motivation and productivity.”

4. Increased morale

Wellness programmes demonstrate goodwill from an employer towards employees and therefore tend to have a positive effect on employee morale. Organizations are also increasingly offering financial rewards for participation in wellness activities.

Current research is examining whether wellness can be made compulsory. As Drury notes, it is difficult to predict “whether wellness can be made compulsory – and if compulsory, whether it still delivers a ‘win-win’ results.”

Georgakopoulos and Kelly note, “many employee benefit packages now highlight the workplace wellness programmes available through the employer.”

5. Improved relationships

Georgakopoulos and Kelly examine the effect of workplace wellness to reduce instances of bullying at work. The findings revealed that employees saw wellness as a “formidable component of the health and success of employees” and that they perceived “workplace bullying as a serious threat to physical and mental wellness.”

By aiding employees to reduce stress, fatigue, anxiety and other conditions that lead to conflict and bullying in workplaces, wellness programmes improve relationships among employees by minimizing conditions that lead to bullying.

When did wellness programmes become popular?

Today, a majority of businesses have wellness promotion strategies. But it hasn’t always been this way. Most researchers agree that despite earlier interventions to improve conditions for employees, workplace wellness programmes did not exist until the 1970s – a similar time as growing interventions to improve health and safety in the workplace.

The main factors leading to the implementation workplace wellness programmes were emerging research that demonstrated that financial cost of unhealthy employees, cultural shifts that led to health and fitness being seen as more important, and the formation of groups such as the Washington Business Group on Health, the Wellness Council of America, and the National Wellness Institute. Influential thinkers included Dr John Travis, with books such as The Wellness Inventory (1975), and The Wellness Workbook (1977), and Don Ardell with his book High Level Wellness: An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs and Disease (1977).

In the 21st century, the wellness industry has continued to grow, with the majority of global employers implementing health promotion strategies. Today, the Global Wellness Institute value the global wellness industry as a $3.4 trillion market, with workplace wellness accounting for $41 billion of this.

How companies can improve their wellness programmes today

Image: Wellness.

As wellness programmes are more and more widely adopted, companies are developing more advanced methods of promoting the health of their employees. Here are three emerging methods that companies can use, as suggested by Ho.

1. Offer incentives

To encourage employees to participate in wellness programmes, companies are offering incentives including gift cards, lower health insurance premiums, cash bonuses, and discounts on health products and services. Ho notes that some programmes enable employees to earn up to $1,500 per year in incentives by meeting daily walking goals, and that employers can achieve premium savings based on participants’ results.

2. Gather biometric data

Considering that many people overestimate the amount of exercise that they do, and underestimate the amount of time that they are sedentary, offering biometric screenings to employees can provide them with a better understanding of their current health, including information such as weight, body mass index, and blood glucose. Advanced programmes can include connected devices such as a bluetooth-enabled wireless scale, and blood pressure monitors, which can transmit participant’s vital signs to a case management nurse or wellness coach.

3. Appoint “wellness champions”

Some companies find that setting up a wellness committee with wellness “champions” who are respected by their peers can help to motivate employees throughout the workplace. Using email, flyers, and meetings to promote to goals of the programme, messages from executives can help to improve participation and show that wellness is a priority across the organization.

How employees can promote their own wellness

While organizations can do a lot to promote wellness, a persons’ health is ultimately their own responsibility. With that in mind, Ho highlights a number of tips for employees to improve their own wellness, which include the following.

1. Set goals

Identify actionable areas for improvement such as diet and weekly exercise levels. Set realistic and measurable goals, for example, daily step goals. Make sure to track your progress so you can remind yourself that you are making positive changes.

2. Reward yourself

Reward yourself for your hard work – although make sure your treat doesn’t conflict with your goals! Ideas include buying a new piece of workout apparel or a new song for your smartphone. Rewarding yourself for reaching short-term goals can help you stay motivated.

3. Get support

Work together with peers, family, or professional coaches to help you reach your goals. Some employer-sponsored wellness programmes include online and telephone-based coaching, office walking groups, and other resources.

4. Protect your eye and oral health

Research shows that overall health can be improved by obtaining care for eyes and mouth. For example, eye care providers can help detect and monitor various health conditions including multiple sclerosis, tumours, Crohn’s disease and sickle cell anemia.

5. Be realistic

One of the most common reasons that plans fail is because they are unrealistic. It can take 21 days for an activity to become a habit, six months for a habit to become part of a lifestyle. Consult a professional to help find a diet and exercise regime that fits your lifestyle.

6. Volunteer

A recent study showed that 76% of US adults who volunteer find that volunteering makes them feel physically healthier, and 78% reported lower stress levels. The study also showed that improved health and professional skills development gained through volunteering have benefits for employers.

Sources

  • Chris Altizer, (2017) "Mindfulness: performance, wellness or fad?", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 16 Issue: 1, pp.24-31, https://doi.org/10.1108/SHR-10-2016-0093

  • Tricia J. Burke, Stephanie L. Dailey, Yaguang Zhu, (2017) "Let’s work out: communication in workplace wellness programs", International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Vol. 10 Issue: 2, pp.101-115, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJWHM-07-2016-0055

  • Pauline Drury, (2016) "Healthy, wealthy and wise?: Why workers join involuntary wellness programs", Human Resource Management International Digest, Vol. 24 Issue: 3, pp.20-22, https://doi.org/10.1108/HRMID-02-2016-0014

  • Alexia Georgakopoulos, Michael P. Kelly, (2017) "Tackling workplace bullying: A scholarship of engagement study of workplace wellness as a system", International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Vol. 10 Issue: 6, pp.450-474, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJWHM-11-2016-0081

  • Sam Ho, (2017) "The future of workplace wellness programs", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 16 Issue: 1, pp.2-6, https://doi.org/10.1108/SHR-11-2016-0101

  • Michael Raymond Rucker, (2017) "Workplace wellness strategies for small businesses", International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Vol. 10 Issue: 1, pp.55-68, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJWHM-07-2016-0054

  • Davide Secchi, Hong T.M. Bui, Kathleen Gamroth, (2015) "Involuntary wellness programs: the case of a large US company", Evidence-based HRM: a Global Forum for Empirical Scholarship, Vol. 3 Issue: 1, pp.2-24, https://doi.org/10.1108/EBHRM-09-2013-0031

  • Tom Torre, (2017) "Healthcare financial management: the missing piece of the employee wellness puzzle", Strategic HR ReviewVol. 16 Issue: 1, pp.13-16, https://doi.org/10.1108/SHR-11-2016-0103

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