If you’re an entrepreneur who has sacrificed a lot of workout time to build the business, it might be hard to see the benefits of creating a health and wellness program for your employees. But here’s the thing: healthy employees can be a major boon to your bottom line. Read on to learn more.
What Is Wellness Program?
Let’s start by pointing out that wellness programs go far beyond exercise and weight loss. That may be the first thing that pops into your mind, but wellness actually incorporates a much broader idea of what it means to be healthy.
According to the National Wellness Institute (@NatlWellnessInt), “Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.” That means a wellness program supports the whole person: mind, body, and spirit.
Granted, in corporate America, the emphasis tends to be on physical wellbeing, but some companies do take a more holistic approach that can include…
- Psychological counseling.
- Stress management classes.
- Sabbaticals for long-term employees.
- Financial counseling.
You can still find your fair share of health screenings and free gym memberships. Just keep in mind that your wellness program can address any number of needs you see in your employees.
The takeaway: When you think “wellness,” think “whole person.” It opens up a wider world of possibilities for your program.
Why Should I Offer a Wellness Program?
Theresa Islo, program manager for the University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Health and Wellness Management (@UWHWM), says research shows that wellness programs can have a positive impact on your bottom line. One study published by The Health Project even found “a correlation between effective workplace health promotion and overall financial performance.”
“While research shows medical cost savings, I would encourage employers to think past health care costs and biometric screenings alone,” Islo notes. She suggests a well-designed worksite wellness program can have additional benefits, like…
- Improved employee health. Nice for them, right? But it’s nice for you, too, because healthy employees come to work.
- Improved productivity. Healthy, balanced employees have an easier time concentrating on the task at hand.
- Improved employee engagement. This may be in part because you’ve demonstrated that you care for your workers.
- Decreased absenteeism. Again, healthy workers show up, but so do the workers who have other aspects of their lives under control, too.
- A positive impact on recruitment and retention. Benefits matter to your employees. Even if you can’t compete on salary, the perk of a wellness program can be a draw.
Islo says it will take some time before you get results you can see and analyze. How much time depends somewhat on the type of program you implement.
“For example, a nutrition education program that aims to reduce BMI could take a minimum of three years to show measurable impact,” says Islo. “Alternately, offering flu shots could produce a noticeable benefit in a matter of months.”
The takeaway: Building a wellness program takes time, but the benefits may make it worth the wait. Learn more in "Study: Wellness Comes Back to Small Businesses Twofold."
What Kind of Wellness Program Can I Offer?
“Organizations around the country are finding exciting, innovative ways to promote well-being,” says Islo. She suggests looking to others for inspiration. For example…
- Chicago-based Tasty Catering (@TastyCatering) emphasizes psychological health programs and other nontraditional benefits such as leadership training and low-interest loans for workers.
- A Tennessee county health department has a wellness garden in which employees grow vegetables.
- Zappos, Facebook, and other leading companies offer paid time off to allow employees to disconnect from work and telecommuting to increase productivity and engagement.
- Meredith Corporation’s (@MeredithCorp) 200 fitness classes have contributed to 85 percent of its employees being healthy.
- Vermont physicians write prescriptions that include free entry to state parks.
- San Francisco International Airport (@flySFO) installed a yoga room to provide travelers with a quiet respite from hectic terminals.
While there are lots of ways to promote wellness in your small business, Islo does offer a few caveats.
“I am wary of weight loss programs that incentivize people to lose weight,” says Islo. “They may have unintended consequences, such as people gaining weight in order to earn the incentive for losing it, and for some, losing weight is risky.”
The takeaway: You can build a wellness program that makes sense for your employees and budget, just be sure to consider the risks as you plan.
Offering a wellness program can set you apart from the crowd. But if your big concern is getting the right people, check out the tips in “5 HR Pros Reveal the Secret to Hiring the Right Employees the First Time.”
About Theresa Islo
Theresa Islo is the program manager at UW-Extension, Division of Continuing Education, Outreach and eLearning for the collaborative, online University of Wisconsin Health and Wellness Management degrees that include a bachelor’s-completion option and a master of science. She was previously the director of operations at the Wellness Council of Wisconsin after working in employee benefits consulting and administration with employers in Southeastern Wisconsin for many years. She completed her bachelor’s degree at UW-Milwaukee.