In a recent article titled, “The Impact of Wellness Programs on America’s Workforce” the author, Audrey Tillman points to how the indirect costs of poor health, like absenteeism, can cost a company two to three times more than direct healthcare costs. In the article, Tillman discusses how employee wellness programs are being increasingly looked at to provide some relief as well as being scrutinized for ROI. As Ovation’s Workforce Health Consultant and a 14-year veteran of corporate wellness, I felt I needed to weigh in.
When companies are deciding to embrace a “culture of health,” they do so based on a few reasons: 1) to continue to offer quality health/medical benefits; 2) to increase the organization’s profit margins; 3) to help employees become more responsible consumers of health care. More than ten years ago, Ovation (formerly CarewDriscoll), made promoting and living a culture of health a priority and was one of the early adopters that brought it as a bona fide business strategy to its clients.
There is an exhausting amount of research, articles, surveys, etc. that have “proven” the benefits of creating a healthy culture within the workplace either through evidenced-based data and/or self-reported behavioral changes. Among these benefits are reduced healthcare costs, reduced absenteeism, reduced presenteeism, and reduced workman’s compensation/disability; as well as increases in productivity, morale, well-being, company loyalty and overall employee satisfaction.
In addition, the promotion of a healthy culture in the workplace has undeniable value as a recruitment and retention tool. It makes sense from a business and human perspective to incorporate the health and well-being of employees, the company’s most important asset, into the organizational business strategy. When you have healthy, happy, and productive employees it’s a win-win for all!
When I hear the phrase “wellness doesn’t work” I have a different opinion. I believe that it does work, but greatly depends on how your program has been designed. The success of the program is based on the mission, goals, and objectives that have been outlined for that program to accomplish. You can’t expect a program to achieve a reduction in health care costs or trend if the program is not designed to do so, nor can you expect significant results if the program doesn’t have senior level support or a dedicated internal team to promote, drive, and support it.
It sounds silly, but there are a number of people who totally negate “wellness” programs because they didn’t see a reduction on claims or trend within one year after implementing, for example, three wellness educational sessions, a health fair, and a Biggest Loser contest. Those types of programs have their worth in consumer education, creating awareness, and engaging a population (all great stepping stones) but they are not going to get you the reduction on claims or trend. Done right, wellness works… period.
Tillman writes, “Nearly a quarter, (22 percent), of companies does not offer them [wellness programs] for their workforce due to the difficulty in quantifying the return-on-investment (ROI).” In my experience, the ROI discussion trips everyone up all the time and unfortunately makes people lose their focus. We are so worried about what the return will be when it comes to health improvement programs. Why? The health improvement field is one of the few fields that I’m aware of that’s held accountable for ROI while it seems that everything else is intuitive. Employees need training, we train them. Technology needs to be updated, we update it. A company changes its brand, re-branding is done. A machine breaks down, we buy a new one. A safety initiative needs to be developed, it gets developed. Very few companies have ROI studies done in these areas, yet when it comes to wanting employees to be healthier, happier and more productive, we question if it’s worth the investment. Shouldn’t health improvement programs be intuitive as well? Let’s not lose focus people… wellness programming DOES work!
Nicole Consiglio, CPT, CLC – Workforce Health Consultant
Nicole Z. Consiglio has 14 years of experience in workforce health programming and implementation. Nicole joined the Ovation team in 2000 as their Wellness Program Coordinator, a role which has evolved into her current position as Workforce Health Consultant. She is actively involved in the assessment, development, implementation & evaluation of our client’s strategic worksite wellness programs.
Nicole’s education and certifications include a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health from Southern Connecticut State University; an Associate’s Degree in Accounting from Post College; a certification in Lifestyle Coaching from Coach Training Alliance; a certification in Personal Training and Weight Room/Resistance Training from the Aerobic & Fitness Association of American (AFAA); and she holds Faculty Status from Wellness Councils of America (WELCOA’s) Well Workplace University Levels 1-4. Nicole is a past recipient of Ovation’s esteemed PATRIK Award and she was instrumental in the organization’s winning of WELCOA’s Gold Well Workplace Award in 2011 and the Well Workplace Award in 2008 for Small Business.