Business of Well-being

The Bottom Line on Wellness

The Bottom Line

The success of a wellness program, in terms of changed behavior and the bottom line, hinges on integrating all planning, activities and efforts into one vibrant, measurable initiative. A key requirement of this integration and the development of salient measures, whether it is one location or in multiple markets, is the endorsement and support of company leadership.

Programs that achieve the greatest level of behavioral change and cost reduction are championed and modeled by the executive team. By working closely from the beginning with top executives, it is easier to customize a wellness program that aligns seamlessly into the existing corporate culture.

Behavioral Changes and Value

Decision makers and corporate suites have a laser-focus on quantifying value and setting an expectation for a return-on-investment (ROI). "Wellness programs have often been viewed as a nice extra, not a strategic imperative. Newer evidence tells a different story," says Leonard Berry, Ann M.

Mirabito and William B. Braun in a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article. The article suggests, "U.S. companies can use wellness programs to chip away at their enormous health care costs, which are only rising with an aging workforce."

The rise in obesity is of great concern and is taking its toll from the shop floor to the corner office. This growing health crisis affects health care related costs, short-term and long-term disability and worker's compensation claims. A recent analysis of 1.56 million short-term disability claims from 1993 to 2012 conducted by Cigna Corp. revealed a 3,300 percent increase in obesity.

"If you think about obesity and the wear and tear that condition has on the extremities and knees, for example, it drives the occurrence of conditions that ultimately lead people to have knee replacements and so forth," said Dr. Robert Anfield, Chief Medical Officer at Cigna.

Data supports the impact wellness programs have on combating health problems. In their article, the HBR authors cited a study of 185 workers and their spouses in which more than half of those classified as high risk were converted to low risk after six months in a wellness program. Medical claim costs declined by $1,421 per participant.

"The bottom line," said the authors, "Every dollar invested in the intervention yielded $6 in health care savings." In another case, cited by the HBR authors, after a wellness initiative at a hospital was in place for six years the number of lost work days declined by 80 percent.

Implementing a successful wellness program typically leads to reduced worker's compensation claims. Leslie Morse, director of claims management for Alper Services LLC in Chicago, acknowledges there is clearly a benefit.

"Employees are quicker to heal, and quicker to go back to work," when they take part in wellness programs. Data compiled by our organization that aimed to track the success of customized wellness initiatives mirrors the positive results cited by the HBR authors and Alper Services.

Metrics that Count

To maintain the backing from senior leadership on why it's important to start and keep a wellness program going, it's important to be able to show gains in productivity, morale, and, of course, cost savings. The following steps serve as a solid foundation for any business looking to partner with a wellness expert who can design and track the efficacy of the program:

  • Allow time for data discovery: The wellness expert should have access to HR, senior managers and other key employees from the very beginning of the partnership. This allows the expert to understand the culture, challenges and nuances of the business. These data mining enables the wellness program to be customized to the exact needs of the organization.
  • Drive employee engagement: Work with your wellness partner to develop a communications program that will drive engagement. To measure the impact of the tactics, monitor engagement on a quarterly or bi-annual basis. This will show whether a business needs to alter their strategy. Conduct webinars and take advantage of other online education tools to keep staff informed and motivated.
  • Tie the program to business objectives: Incorporate wellness measures into the company's personnel reviews and management goals for the year. Incentives such as bonuses or additional vacation time could be offered to staff who demonstrates progress towards their wellnChroness goals.

    Research sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and conducted by RAND Health revealed more than two-thirds of employers surveyed (69 percent) with at least 50 employees and workplace wellness programs used financial incentive to encourage program uptake.

The key to realizing some of the productivity gains and cost reductions is, of course, the employees themselves. A combination of committed leadership in a company and the hands-on work of a wellness expert can set the table for these kinds of internal improvements.

Why Businesses Need to Care

The challenge to overcome chronic diseases once associated with older age groups who were no longer in the workplace is no longer true. Today's daily routine, for many, is more sedentary, includes poor nutrition and a lack of wellness awareness. As a result, more working-age individuals are battling health issues that are becoming a burden both financially and from a productivity standpoint for companies of all sizes.

Taking a preemptive approach to health promotion in the workplace empowers every business. Companies have the unique opportunity to alter the long-term health of their employees positively. And, while they are employees of the business, they have the distinct advantage of knowing their staff well equipped with the knowledge, tools and programs that will influence their productivity, morale and focus.

When it is time to highlight wellness, it must be a key focus for the entire Senior Team. Healthy, happy employees are, indeed, your greatest asset. An improved bottom line - short-term and long-term - doesn't hurt, either.

About the Author

Sue Parks, a former top-level executive with USWest, Gateway and Kinkos, is a corporate wellness expert. She is the founder and CEO of iCount Wellness at WalkStyles Inc., based in Irvine, Calif., and co-author of "iCount, 10 Simple Steps to a Healthy Life." For more information, visit

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