There are two kinds of businesses: businesses that try to constantly be on the cutting edge of best practices, and businesses that merely pay lip service to the idea.
If you count your business among the former, or are looking to upgrade, wellness initiatives are the mark of a true 21st century business.
Gone are the days when employees are considered “assets,” little more than desks or chairs, replaceable and faceless. “Employees are the lifeblood of the company, and that lifeblood needs to be cared for,” asserts Linda Endecott, chief executive officer of Wellness Consumer Builders, a consulting firm that helps businesses develop and maintain their own sophisticated, measurable wellness programs.
Having Endecott’s attitude is nothing short of crucial to success in the current climate. On the one hand, the general workforce is aging, driving up health-care costs, and on the other, the millennial generation, known for its high expectations of employers, is slowly trickling in. Employees are more stressed than ever due to falling wages, and often due to decreased health coverage. Under these conditions you can’t afford not to take care of your employees. Otherwise you may find that they stop taking care of you, or worse, your customers.
On the surface, wellness initiatives are primarily concerned with promoting the physical and mental health of employees. Examples of wellness programs include nutritional education, personal health assessments, and incentives for employees to maintain their own health.
“Ultimately,” says Rod Hart, manager of health-care services at the ODS Companies, an insurance company in Portland, Oregon, “wellness is about changing the overall culture of the business.” Without changing the culture, he says, you can’t help people take responsibility for their own health.
“You can see it in the elevators, at the water cooler, in the break rooms,” says Hart. “That’s where the real money is.”
Money? Oh, yes.
Estimates vary, but the substantial body of research on the subject indicates that companies can expect a return on investment of 300 percent to 500 percent for every dollar spent on employee wellness.
Investing in employee wellness initiatives means allocating human and capital resources for programs and incentives. Forward-thinking companies, such as Robbie Fantastic Flexibles, a Kansas City, Missouri, manufacturer of flexible packaging solutions, have even built fitness centers on company property. Robbie’s human resources manager, Lisa Kist, says when employees use the gym for at least one hour a week, and satisfactorily participate in the other wellness programs, they are given a 20 percent discount on their health insurance premiums.
“Our owner takes good care of his health,” says Kist. She, Endecott, and Hart all agree that support from the top is a crucial component in any wellness initiative.
“It has to be real support,” says Endecott. “Employees can tell when it’s just lip service.” Executives, she says, have to be willing to not only commit resources but also to participate with the employees, to dig beneath the surface and discover what their employees really need.
The return on this investment in wellness initiatives comes primarily in the form of improved productivity and decreasing absenteeism rates. Employees feel that the company recognizes their contribution, and a little of that attitude goes a long way. It can even lower your workers’ compensation modification factor, or in some cases your health insurance premiums.
You won’t, however, see such returns in the short term. “When I was a kid I wanted to change the world overnight,” Hart says. “That’s not how it works.” Wellness initiatives generally start to generate returns in three to five years, due to the nature of the effort: You are changing the very fabric of your company’s culture.
Hardened executives may sneer at wellness initiatives, but the truth of the matter is that the cost of inaction may be too great to bear. Without taking steps to ensure that employees are invested in their work, and healthy enough to accomplish their jobs, businesses put themselves at risk.