Can Wellness at Work Work?
With the continued focus on rising Healthcare costs and the impact of the Affordable Care Act, many leaders question whether Wellness works. Recently, MEA held sessions with Dr. Dee Edington, author of Zero Trends: Health as a Serious Economic Strategy and a leading national researcher on Wellness. His ideas draw from more than 30 years of research and data on hundreds of thousands of employees. MEA has also recently established a Health and Care Peer Group of more than 20 CEOs and CFOs who meet monthly to hear from leading outside experts and each other in order to collaborate and develop best practices for mid-sized organizations around health and healthcare. While by no means the “answer,” here are some points that have come out of these presentations and discussions:
- Wellness is a broad phrase but there is ample evidence that improving the health of our employees and their families improves performance and productivity, reduces absenteeism and sick leave and increases presenteeism.
- In addition, a healthy workplace for many companies is a key driver of employee morale and engagement and is often reflected in a company’s core values.
- Many programs attempt to eliminate an already present risk (smoking cessation, weight loss) and these have not proved successful.
- According to Dr. Edington’s research, healthcare costs rise exponentially as health risk factors and age rise. To battle this trend, we need to work on creating healthy workplaces where positive behaviors are rewarded before employees reach points where it is difficult to go back. His most compelling statement was that we will be much better off if we just don’t get worse.
Interestingly, the research and feedback from the Peer Group suggest a couple of critical steps to make “health stick.”
- Senior Executive commitment and participation is critical. As with most areas, employees don’t always focus on what you say but on what you do.
- Internal Champions are necessary to create and maintain momentum. We also need to recognize and reward these champions.
- Involve employees in program design and development. While outside partners can help with implementation, make it a company program.
- Take multiple actions (can be small), make it visible, and don’t make it mandatory. Not everyone will respond to the same programs or goals. For example, many people may like healthy eating options like fruit or high protein snacks, but as one participant noted, some people still want their sugar or soda in the middle of the day and we can’t punish them by eliminating it.
- Make it fun. Some of the highest participation levels from participants involve challenges, team Olympics and other activities designed to have team members do it together.
- Invest to show your commitment. It might be the cost of healthy snacks or free gym memberships or health screenings but it shows that you are behind the program. One of our Members goes so far as to have many events and programs where employees earn points. At the end of the year, the employee with the most points gets free health insurance for the next year!
Many MEA Members are focused on promoting their culture and core values as a recruiting and retention tool. For many, an environment of healthy living and high engagement levels go hand in hand. With a top down commitment, grass roots ownership and partners that can support you, there are many opportunities to improve health management in the workplace with both individual and business benefits.