By Fiona Gathright
May 7, 2009
As companies nationwide feel the pressure to trim their budgets, it may be surprising at first to learn that employers are launching wellness programs in record numbers. Although numerous studies have demonstrated an impressive return on investment - as much as five dollars for every dollar spent - it takes time to see results. Indeed, studies have shown that the highest return on investment is usually experienced after a program has been in place for 12 to 18 months.
So, why would a company choose to offer a wellness programs now, in the midst of an economic downturn? The short answer is, because they must. As employers seek the root cause of crushing workers compensation and health care premiums, many have begun to recognize the importance of taking a proactive stance when it comes to the health of their employees. Doing nothing is not an option.
Although the maximum return on investment takes time, most organizations find that employee wellness programs provide a number of immediate benefits. From day one, the program sends an important message to employees: We value your health and well-being. When it comes to encouraging productivity and retaining top talent, this kind of personal message is invaluable.
Additionally, a robust wellness program can function as a unique and effective public relations tool. Because health and wellness are on the minds of today’s consumers and investors, taking visible steps to improve the well-being of employees can translate into a powerful competitive advantage.
In one of its recent annual reports, Johnson & Johnson shared targeted statistical data about its employee population: the percentage of its workers who use tobacco, have high blood pressure, or need to get more exercise. In addition to demonstrating Johnson & Johnson’s focus on wellness, choosing to go public with this information also touts the above-average health of its workforce. This is a compelling indicator of high productivity and quality management.
Some in the wellness industry have even advocated the creation of a “wellness index” to gauge the state of a company’s well-being. Assuming that corporations could find a consistent method of reporting the data, such an index would enable investors to compare the wellness scores of different companies and to draw meaningful conclusions. An abnormally low score might indicate problems within the organization.
The decision to implement a comprehensive wellness program is a serious one. But as rising health care costs continue to burden employers and employees alike, a new approach is needed - one that focuses on long-term behavior modification. In the long run, your healthier workforce will thank you for the investment - and so will your bottom line.
Fiona Gathright is president and owner of Wellness Corporate Solutions, LLC, a Maryland-based company that builds customized, high-impact employee wellness programs for clients nationwide. She can be reached at [email protected].