Workplace wellness

Workplace wellness is a program offered by some employers as a combination of educational, organizational, and environmental activities designed to support behavior conducive to the health of employees in a business and their families. Known as 'corporate wellbeing' outside the U.S., it consists of health fairs, health education, medical screenings, health coaching, weight management programs, staff member wellness newsletters, on-site fitness programs and/or facilities and educational programs designed to change employees' behavior in order to achieve better health and reduce the associated health risks.

While the stated goal of workplace wellness programs is to improve employee health, many U.S. employers have turned to them to help alleviate the impact of enormous increases in health insurance premiums[1] experienced over the last decade. Some employers have also begun varying the amount paid by their employees for health insurance based on participation in these programs.[2]

Part of the reason for the growth of healthcare costs to employers is the rise in obesity-related illnesses brought about by lack of physical activity. In 2000 the health costs of overweight and obesity were estimated at $117 billion.[3] Each year obesity contributes to an estimated 112,000 preventable deaths.[4] An East Carolina University study of individuals aged 15 and older without physical limitations found that the average annual direct medical costs were $1,019 for those who are regularly physically active and $1,349 for those who reported being inactive. Being overweight increases yearly per person health care costs by $125, while obesity increases costs by $395.[5] A survey of North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services employees found that approximately 70 cents of every healthcare dollar was spent to treat employees who had one or more chronic conditions, two thirds of which can be attributed to three major lifestyle risk factors: physical inactivity, poor diet, and tobacco use.[6]

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report[7] revealed that at worksites with exercise programs as components of their wellness programs: healthcare costs decreased from 75 to 55%, short-term sick leave was lowered from 38 to 32%, and productivity increased from 50 to 52%.[8]

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who studied successful strategies to prevent cardiovascular disease estimated that over a two-to-five year period, companies with comprehensive workplace wellness programs and appropriate health plans in place can yield $3 to $6 for each dollar invested, all while reducing the likelihood of employee heart attacks and strokes.[9] In general, it is estimated that worksite health promotion programs result in a benefit-to-cost ratio of $3.48 in reduced health care costs and $5.82 in lower absenteeism costs per dollar invested, according to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services.[10] Additionally, worksite health programs can improve productivity, increase employee satisfaction, demonstrate concern for employees, and improve morale in the workplace.[11]

Contents

Case study

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a case study of a workplace wellness program at Austin, TX's Capital Metro, Austin’s local transit authority.[12]

Context

Capital Metro employs 1,282 people. In 2003, Health & Lifestyles was hired to help promote healthier lifestyles, increase employee morale, and combat rising health care costs and absenteeism rates.

Methods

Health & Lifestyles provided consultations with wellness coaches and personal trainers, a 24-hour company fitness center, personalized health assessments, and preventive screenings. The program expanded to include healthier food options, cash incentives, health newsletters, workshops, dietary counseling, smoking cessation programs, and a second fitness center.

Consequences

Participants in the wellness program reported improvements in physical activity, healthy food consumption, weight loss, and blood pressure. Capital Metro’s total health care costs increased by progressively smaller rates from 2003 to 2006 and then decreased from 2006 to 2007. Absenteeism has decreased by approximately 25% since the implementation of the program, and the overall return on the investment was calculated to be 2.43.

Interpretation

Since its beginning in 2003, the wellness program at Capital Metro has shown promising results in improving employee health and reducing costs associated with health care and absenteeism, and the financial benefits outweigh the annual investment (2.43 ROI). Employees engage in more physical activity, have better knowledge of disease management (diabetes and asthma), have better eating habits, and smoke less than they did before the program was implemented. Health care and absenteeism costs have been reduced and are continuing to decline, most likely as a result of the program. Managerial staff have reported that employee morale has increased since the program was implemented. Most importantly, however, we believe that the wellness program has the potential to reduce the prevalence and severity of chronic diseases, allowing Capital Metro employees to lead longer, healthier lives.[13]

See also

References


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