Employers should believe that healthier employees are more productive employees. Studies prove this! Emphasizing health AND changing the culture within the workplace to support healthier lifestyles is worth the effort. Any ROI is icing on the cake.
A current article from the Michigan Journal of Public Affairs suggests that most returns on wellness program investments come from improved productivity. Another survey found that 56% of employers with workplace wellness programs reported an increase in employee morale; a third study found nearly two thirds of employees with high levels of well-being consistently put in extra effort at work. It is also true that employees with better morale are also healthier. An analysis of 30 studies found that happy people are less likely to get sick.
Recent articles have cast doubt surrounding worksite wellness and the return on investment it produces, or doesn’t produce. For several months now, some industry experts have questioned the value of wellness programs, concluding that it is impossible for programs to impact costs the way some employers and vendors have claimed. At the same time, others have vigorously defended previously documented studies that suggest a return of at least $3 for every $1 spent. Regardless of where you stand on how wellness results should be measured, the following facts are indisputable:
- most chronic conditions can be prevented and/or managed through improved lifestyle behaviors
- chronic conditions are costly to employers and members
- if we do nothing, the trajectory is only going to get worse
For example, look at the rise in obesity in the United States and compare it to the increase in Type 2 diabetes. The two are undoubtedly linked and are costing billions in healthcare dollars each year. Furthermore, these conditions are heavily influenced by lifestyle choices.
Wellness proponents have long argued that employers are in a unique position to influence these behaviors by offering wellness programs. To a degree, this is accurate, if and only if, the workplace culture is the primary focus of the influence. For example, merely holding an annual biometric screening or other health event will do little to influence lifestyle choices, but adopting healthy meeting policies, promoting exercise within the workplace, and giving employees the freedom to choose healthy options has a greater impact on sustaining behaviors.
On the other hand, wellness critics argue that only those who are already motivated participate and take advantage of worksite wellness offerings. While this may be true, isn’t one of the goals of wellness to keep the healthy population healthy? Furthermore, aren’t we limited in our thinking when we only look to worksite wellness to reduce and control healthcare costs? And take that a step further; aren’t we being narrow-minded to expect to be able to demonstrate cost-savings when wellness is primarily aimed at prevention? Just something to ponder… And when you do, the ROI conversation changes. A lot!