The Benefits of Workplace Wellness Programs
When the Oncology Nursing Society built its new headquarters in Pittsburgh eight years ago, Ellie Mary, CWWS, went to the human resources director with an idea: Instead of letting the unoccupied space sit empty until it was rented, why not set up a dedicated workout space for employees? She got an enthusiastic green light, and Mary, ONS’s payroll and benefits specialist and an avid exerciser, got busy setting up a few classes, a TV for workout DVDs, and an area for walking indoors when the weather was bad. The space was eventually rented, but by then her small initiative was growing into an organization-wide wellness movement. The association now offers access to two treadmills, two elliptical machines, weights, and other equipment in an onsite gym for its 135 employees, as well as a bike rack and sidewalks, which were installed after people requested additional places to walk.
Wellness programs like ONS’s reflect a trend among employers, who have begun to realize that a healthier workforce means better productivity, less absenteeism, and more camaraderie among staff who exercise together.
Many association health plans offer incentives and discounts to employees who reach certain goals, such as quitting smoking or reducing cholesterol, making wellness programs a way to keep rising insurance costs down. And beyond those benefits, a workplace wellness program can help organizations tangibly demonstrate their missions to employees.
If your association is interested in starting or adding to a wellness program, the Corporate Health and Wellness Association offers these tips to get started:
- Approach a wellness provider or consultant who has worked with similar-sized organizations. One place to begin is with your health insurance provider to find out what resources and incentives are available to your employees.
- Conduct a survey of employees to gauge their interest in a wellness program, onsite fitness classes, or walking clubs.
- Evaluate your workforce’s overall health. Speak to your insurance provider about evaluating claims history, chronic conditions, and where your expenditures are in areas that can be affected by lifestyle changes. Two important notes: This information is only an aggregate; privacy rules prohibit release of information about specific employees. Also, keep in mind that a wellness program should never be implemented in lieu of providing health insurance.
- Form a committee to figure out how to engage your employees in the long term. Results will take time and dedication, as they do for individuals making lifestyle changes. Don’t abandon an effort too quickly because it seems like it’s not having the desired effect.
- Organize social events and encourage behavior changes through modeling at every level of the organization. Consider developing a website customized to the wellness program. Get the CEO involved, profile employees who are making big changes, and put “health coaches” in every department to encourage staff.