Dec 13 Employee Wellness1 2

What employer wouldn’t like to have a way of increasing employee productivity, employee morale, and company profitability all at the same time? Not possible you think? Au contraire, my friend. Wellness programs—well-done wellness programs, that is—can provide you with that increased productivity and morale that translates into more dollars to the bottom line.

A Cross-Generational Need

At this time we have a multi-generational workforce that can really benefit from good wellness programs. We have the Baby-boomers who, as they age, end up with health issues that may result in lowered stamina and thus a lowered capability to perform their jobs correctly. And we have Millennials who grew up as couch potatoes playing video games—to the point that the efforts parents go through to get their kids to play outside’ is a well-founded point of humor. Lack of exercise has been shown to result in a reduced capacity to work hard and produce well, even in jobs that primarily involve sitting at a computer. The growing obesity problem and its associated ill-effects are well documented in that generation, indeed across all generations. As these younger people join the workforce, they bring with them these associated health problems.

Wellness Programs to the Rescue!

With healthcare costs reaching about 15% of the GDP in the U.S., companies recognized that something needed to be done. I recall in my career that one of the early wellness programs for the workplace was a smoking cessation program. Since then, weight control has been added, as well as a large number of biometric screening programs that help people discover if they have blood pressure or diabetes problems. These wellness programs have paid dividends for both companies and employees. One company estimated that moving just 10% of their employees from high risk to low risk through early detection and prevention yielded an ROI of 6 to 1 and generated a savings of over $6 million in just one year.

Of course, employees gain from these programs as well. On the website, there are many success stories. One that stood out to me is the story of Julie Ritzman, who was overweight and had a family history of diabetes. As a result of her workplace health screening, she became more aware of her health risks and decided to eat healthier and start bicycling. Over a period of two years, she lost 90 pounds and is healthier than she was in her twenties. In addition, her husband has lost 50 pounds, and her children exercise and eat better as well. I have a similar story, and that is why her story caught my attention.

What Makes for a Good Wellness Program?

Wellness can’t be just a thrown-together effort. There are a number of steps that go into making a good program. According to the article cited above from the Harvard Business Review, these steps include the following.

  • A multi-level leadership team needs to be involved. Employees won’t participate if the company leaders don’t. It has to start with the support and participation of the C-suite, through middle managers, program managers, and then employee champions to set the example.
  • It should be aligned with the goals of the company, so that the program compliments business priorities. And there have to be carrots and not sticks. This means you cannot press people to participate or punish them for not participating.
  • The program has to have scope, relevance, and quality. This means you have to be concerned with more than just exercise, and you need some individualization and flexibility in the program.
  • It has to be accessible and convenient.
  • You’ll need credible partnerships, such as with local health clubs or other specialized vendors offering quality services.
  • You have to communicate about the program. ALL the TIME.

But keep your tone light. Alan Kohll, who has been in the HR industry for over 18 years, says that employers can destroy their own efforts by using scare tactics and trying to force participation.

Legal Considerations

There are four laws that impact wellness programs. These include ERISA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, and the Affordable Healthcare Act. The ACA in particular says:

  • Programs must be reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease. To be considered reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease, a program would have to offer a different, reasonable means of qualifying for the reward to any individual who does not meet the standard based on the measurement, test or screening. Programs must have a reasonable chance of improving health or preventing disease and not be overly burdensome for individuals.
  • Programs must be reasonably designed to be available to all similarly situated individuals. Reasonable alternative means of qualifying for the reward would have to be offered to individuals whose medical conditions make it unreasonably difficult, or for whom it is medically inadvisable, to meet the specified health-related standard.
  • Individuals must be given notice of the opportunity to qualify for the same reward through other means. These proposed rules provide new sample language intended to be simpler for individuals to understand and to increase the likelihood that those who qualify for a different means of obtaining a reward will contact the plan or issuer to request it.

The Future of Wellness

Because of the valuable and substantial return-on-investment that wellness programs offer, they are not going to go away. However, to make them more palatable and interesting to Millennials and the up-and-coming Gen Z, companies are starting to “gamify” the programs. Companies that offer walking games or wellness objectives tied to something like the Pokemon Go game is where fitness is headed.

If you are not encouraging wellness in your employees, it will be to your company’s detriment. Not only does it return a great deal of money, but it can also act as a recruiting tool to help you find and retain the talent of the future.

Does your company offer a wellness plan? Want to share any stories of setbacks or success?


  • Sherry P. says:

    In my opinion these programs should be more customizable for individuals, as any individual has specific health conditions, so I agree that a high degree of flexibility is absolutely necessary. Without this flexibility the program has no value, since at company level you might have hundreds of different scenarios depending on individual situations.

  • Lionel Bron says:

    If Pokemon Go had been part of a wellness program for a company, surely it wouldn’t be such a success. Most people are willing to do something about their health when they’re really uncomfortable or even hurting. There are always more important things to be scheduled and done, and this is a way of thinking that needs to change.

  • Travis says:

    The companies I used to work for, as well as the present one, the entire wellness program consists of offering gym discounts. However, I would think offering a HRA, Health Reimbursement Arrangement, would be viewed as more important by employees than gym discounts or even a gym in the company building.

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