Employee Wellness: What Will You Do to Help Workers Stay Healthy?

One of the very first things I wrote here at TLNT last month was about the wellness push and the debate around the notion of whether getting employees to exercise, eat better, lose weight and generally take better care of themselves would help your organization through lower health care premiums, more productive workers, and a better overall bottom line.

I said that the jury was still out on whether you can encourage or motivate your employees to get healthier, and I pointed to a story by Associated Press medical writer Mike Stobbe that said that despite companies trying the wellness approach, and a number of studies that have looked at it, “Most of those studies were small and … none could make conclusions about how much money it takes to make a lasting difference for most people.”

Because TLNT was so new at the time, I didn’t get a lot of reaction to the article (you can find it here) but I questioned whether these programs are a smart business decision, or just a costly waste of time with no discernible ROI.

Well, here’s another take on the topic from my friend Cindy Krischer Goodman, the workplace columnist at The Miami Herald. She recently looked at the wellness trend with a particular focus on what the University of Miami is doing.

“The University of Miami has spent $40 million to build and maintain two on-campus wellness centers and offer programs to get its employees fit and healthy,” she wrote.”It even has offered financial incentives to encourage participation from those less enthusiastic … such as $150 medical premium credit for participating in an online health assessment and a 20 percent rebate on their wellness center membership.”

But she made this point: “As wellness programs continue to proliferate, this question becomes increasing valid: With employers picking up more health care costs, whose business is it if you are healthy — yours or the company you work for?”

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It’s a great question, and an especially relevant one when you consider that “in 2014, under health reform, employers can offer greater incentives to employees for participating in corporate wellness programs or meeting certain health targets. Those incentives can include reduced premiums, cash rebates or merchandise.”

Clearly, the job of keeping employees healthy will fall on employers as well as employees, and the federal government’s new health care website that was just launched July 1 (http://www.healthcare.gov/) has an area devoted to helping workers stay healthy (http://www.healthcare.gov/learn/index.html).

This makes me wonder: what is your company doing about employee wellness? Do you have programs in place now, or are you going to wait until 2014 to really get started on this? And, what kind of approach are you taking – carrot or stick (that is, rewards for positive behavior or penalties to force workers to change their ways)?

Either way, I’d love to find out what your company is doing, or how you are preparing for the new, government-directed wellness mandate that’s going to be dropped on your plate three years from now, like it or not.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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2 Comments on “Employee Wellness: What Will You Do to Help Workers Stay Healthy?

  1. john,

    i think there's some really strong data about why companies should be investing in wellness, and by that i mean wellness on all fronts: physical, mental, financial, etc. recent review of the available data suggests that savings can be found (http://bit.ly/b4VHAG). there's also a sea change among industries (see: pepsi) as they recognize that a health focus keeps them a viable organization (more: http://bit.ly/c5IqzN). i do wonder how this will alter the employer-employee relationship. more employers are focusing on wellness, and privacy concerns are cropping up within this relationship as well as in the general consumer market. my POV is that provided employers pay 75%-80% of the cost of health care, they do have a place in the conversation far beyond what many employees might like.

    fran

  2. Great to see you reference this study, Fran, because it's hard to get a good fix on the actual ROI for companies that invest in wellness.

    I personally believe that wellness programs are a good thing, and that helping employees to get (and stay) healthy is a positive in many, many different ways that aren't always easy to measure. But, lots of organizations want a discernable ROI calculation before they make an investment.

    More studies like this one will help more companies get there and encourage them to invest in employee wellness sooner rather than later.

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