Workplace wellness programs: aging dinosaur or evolving tool?

By Higginbotham on January 28 , 2016

Wellness trends

Ask any employer today about workplace wellness programs, and it’s a sure bet that for many of them, the concept has lost much of its glitter. After all, wellness programs were originally touted as a magic pill for reducing health care costs. But when there’s money to be made, big promises will also be made, and many health and wellness vendors have over-promised and under-delivered. On top of that, it’s tough to get true engagement. Many employees feel the programs are too confusing, inconvenient, unexciting, irrelevant, invasive or otherwise a waste of time.

The fact is, most employers simply haven’t seen the big ROI numbers they were promised from workplace wellness programs – and in many cases, the programs don’t even pay for themselves.

So are wellness programs still a viable tool for improving your company’s overall health and productiveness, and for reducing health care costs? Yes, but you’ll need to take a more holistic approach, consider the overall well-being of your employees and their families and evaluate the environment where they spend most of their time to realize positive outcomes.

Workplace Wellness 2.0

There’s been a seismic shift in how we think about workplace wellness in recent years. Of course, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has its own rules on wellness programs, so employers are at least partially beholden to measurement and compliance issues. And it’s true that cost savings continue to be a key objective of wellness programs.

But the scope of “wellness” has changed dramatically. Traditional programs have too often focused on participation in programming such as smoking cessation, weight loss and health assessment questionnaires instead of emphasizing the importance of corporate culture, engagement and sustainable lifestyle changes. And they too often focus solely on employees’ physical health instead of total well-being. Since these traditional programs have not been successful, organizations have been reevaluating their wellness strategies, completely redefining their view of employee well-being and discovering different ways of creating sustainability and measuring ROI.

New strategies. Employers are playing an ever-growing role in creating an environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice. They are providing resources, such as personalized financial wellness classes, tools to assist their employees in making more informed health care decisions and creating opportunities for employees to take more ownership of their well-being.

An evolving definition. With the shift from “wellness” to “well-being,” wellness initiatives have taken on a whole new look, now including such diverse benefits as:

  • Developing policies that support a culture of well-being
  • Changing and altering the built environment
  • Allowing Flex time
  • Promoting volunteer opportunities on company time
  • Parenting classes
  • Leadership training
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Stand-up desks
  • Walking meetings

VOI is the new ROI. Health care cost savings has traditionally been the benchmark for measuring ROI of wellness programs. But as wellness programs evolve, employers have increased their focus on other areas, such as employee productivity and how wellness impacts the company overall. It’s no longer just about return on investment, but the value of that investment (VOI). Key metrics for measuring VOI should include employee surveys, risk reduction in cohort populations, patterns of absence, productivity, engagement, consumerism, worker safety factors, such as workers ’ compensation claims and short-term disability claims, and health care costs.

Bottom line: a one-size-fits-all wellness program won’t cut it anymore, and if your wellness program isn’t evolving, it could be a dinosaur on the verge of extinction. Contact the group benefits experts at Higginbotham Insurance. We can help.

Related: Three ways to create effective workplace wellness programs


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Tags: Corporate Wellness


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