Taking the Pulse of Employee Wellness Programs 

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Jul 12 2018

Every few months I see another article proclaiming the death of workplace wellness – or at least questioning whether wellness programs really work. Let me set the record straight: Workplace wellness (or well-being, as many of us call it) is not just alive but thriving, embraced by more organizations than ever before. That’s because it’s not just a benefits strategy – it’s a workforce and business strategy. And many employers are seeing big dividends.

For supporting evidence, Mercer’s National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans 2017 found that more 80% of large employers (those with 500 or more employees) provided well-being programs to their employees. And a growing percentage is purchasing optional well-being services through their health plan or contracts with a specialty vendor for these services.

Importantly, it’s not just the folks in wellness or benefits that are embracing well-being. Look at the agenda of any HR conference and you will likely find multiple sessions devoted to well-being -- at the recent SHRM conference in Chicago, I counted at least a dozen! The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated to health, is teaming up with Harvard to provide a course called "Improving Your Business through a Culture of Health" to help business leaders understand how to prioritize healthy workforces, environments, and communities.

Why are employers investing in employee well-being? While many believe it’s simply the right thing to do, studies show that there’s also a business case to be made. In this ACOEM article, stock values for a portfolio of companies that received high scores in a corporate health and wellness self-assessment appreciated by 235% compared with the S&P 500 Index appreciation of 159% over a 6-year simulation period. And we’ve written here about an analysis of our survey data that found significantly lower turnover rates among companies doing the most to help employees thrive compared to those doing less.

Like so many aspects of work today, ideas about employee well-being are evolving rapidly. If you think your program may be due for refreshing, here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you begin:

  • Be clear on the specifics of why you are offering a well-being program at your company. That may seem obvious, but it’s a critical first step that will guide what you actually do.
  • Get ongoing employee feedback. After all, a well-being program is something you want them to embrace -- and you shouldn’t have to pay them big bucks to participate in. Get a better sense of their world – for some, well-being would be enhanced by a better commute to work; for another, by better managing their diabetes.
  • Make it personal. Something that works for you may not for others. Having programs and opportunities that can flex with the needs and interests of your employee is critical.

Finally, brainstorm about ways to create or enhance an overarching culture of health for your employees. When it comes to well-being, what you do speaks louder than what you say.

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