Workplace Wellness: Not Just Health and Safety
By Mike Martin
At one time workplace wellness had two basic elements; workplace safety and accident and injury prevention. Those are two very important aspects of a healthy workplace but both employers and employers have realized that there are many more elements to creating healthy workplaces and for about ten years many organizations have developed comprehensive workplace wellness programs that deal with the holistic health and well-being of their workforce.
The evolution of workplace wellness came about as a result of a number of factors. First of all research began to confirm that poor lifestyle choices like physical inactivity, poor diet, and tobacco smoking were direct factors in most chronic illnesses and diseases. Secondly as the level of stress increased in society and the workplace, the costs of providing employee benefits like prescription drugs to treat mental illness and depression were skyrocketing. Thirdly employers began to realize that they were losing valuable time and productivity that was directly related to their employee’s health. It just made good business and economic sense to invest in their employee’s health and so the workplace wellness boom began.
Ten years later the research shows that workplace wellness programs are having a real and tangible impact on not only the health of the workers involved but on the companies who made the investments bottom line. Workplace wellness programs have been proven to deliver returns to employers of anywhere from $2.00 to $10.00 for every dollar spent. These returns have come in the form of increased productivity, reduced sick time and absenteeism, lower costs to provide employee health benefits, and reduced Workers Compensation claims.
Some examples to prove the point are the Canada Life Insurance company which reported a return of $3.43 on their fitness program, and an overall return on investment of $6.85 on each corporate dollar invested in productivity gains, reduced turnover and decreased medical claims. InTorontocivic employees who participated in the “Metro Fit” fitness programs missed 3.35 fewer days in the first six months of the program than employees not enrolled in the program. And in British Columbia B.C Hydro employees who participated in their workplace fitness program had a turnover rate of just 3.5% compared with a company average of 10.3%. There are dozens of other examples out there from both major corporations and small operations that make the case. Workplace wellness programs deliver results for both the employer and the employee.
Employers benefit from workplace wellness programs by reducing the costs of disability claims, prescription drugs, and absenteeism. They also benefit by improving morale which leads to happier and more productive employees. In addition these programs help reduce the stress in the workplace and make it easier for employers to attract and retain their employees.
Employees benefit from workplace wellness programs by becoming more aware of ways to improve their own health and by working in a stress-reduced workplace. All employees who participate in wellness activities in the workplace attain some improvement in their overall health and many report greater job satisfaction and improved morale. They are also less likely to be injured at work and are able to reduce their personal health costs.
There are three major components to a comprehensive workplace wellness program: Prevention, Recognition, and Assistance and an effective program should consist of some activities that touch on each of these elements. Some companies begin with simple programs like information sessions on healthy eating or by offering smoking cessation programs. Other organizations plan variety of activities so that employees can pick and choose which program best suits their needs.
Both approaches work well in introducing the concept of wellness into the workplace and over a period of time the employer can see which types of programs are most popular with their staff group and stop offering the poorly attended yoga classes at noon. The range of activities under the major themes of Prevention, Recognition, and Assistance is endless from providing ergonomic work stations, offering first aid and CPR courses, to making healthy snacks available in the workplace. Once an organization has tried out several options it can tailor its own workplace wellness program to meet the specific needs of its employees in line with its own corporate goals and objectives.
Workplace wellness programs are alive and thriving because they work for both employees and the employer. We can never forget about basic safety and accident prevention. Those programs should and must continue. But adding more elements to these basics has proven to be a great success.
Mike Martin is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness and conflict resolution. He is the author of “Change the Things You Can” (Dealing with Difficult People).