22 Feb Corporate Wellness – Achieve it in your organization
Life is better and we live longer when we stay healthy. Businesses want healthy employees; they are the ones who produce more, who take fewer days off work, and cost less in health care. Corporate wellness has become a big issue in both the United States, in Europe and elsewhere. Many firms have implemented or are in the process of implementing such programs, and many more are considering doing so. In the US over 90% of firms with over 200 employees have some kind of wellness program.
There are various approaches to implementing such programs. Often this involves either a carrot or a stick approach, and sometimes a combination of both. The carrot incentivizes employees to lead a healthier lifestyle, and the stick penalizes those who lead unhealthy lifestyles. So, what are the real challenges facing management and HR? Here are a few pointers that we hope will help.
One challenge is how to negotiate the various regulations and laws that apply to wellness programs. This isn’t helped by the lack of a single legal definition of what a wellness program really is. In fact, there is a diversity of definitions (Mattke S, 2012) which would appear to reflect the different aims and objectives that companies have. Usually, however, they tend to share a set of common features:
• Education – the provision of healthcare and information through seminars, health fairs, and newsletters
• Online resources to encourage health and wellness
• Counseling on nutrition
• Analysis of life style and risk factors
• Health risk assessment
• Coaching on health and exercise
• Membership (free or discounted) of gyms and health clubs
• Stress management
• Management of existing diseases such as heart disease, blood pressure and diabetes
• Biometric testing and screening
• Stop smoking programs
• Immunization programs
• Clinics in house
Carrots and Sticks
The stick approach has many ethical and legal issues. Once such stick could be penalizing employees who are overweight or smoke by charging higher healthcare premiums. But if the program involves a free annual health assessment, then some employees are likely to be reluctant to participate through concerns they will face a penalty if they stay unhealthy.
Carrots offered to employees to encourage participation are typically worth from $100 to $500 and include such incentives as free gym membership, discounted healthy meals served in the work canteen, lower insurance premiums, and free stop smoking programs. There are, however, strict laws that limit the value of incentives that can be offered.
Generally, employers prefer carrots to sticks as they avoid alienating workers and avoid job and promotion issues regarding pre-existing illnesses. However, if the carrot approach fails and healthcare costs continue to rise, then sticks tend to be used.
Some of the problems with sticks include:
• Potential legal problems relating to for discrimination and harassment of employees who failure to participate
• Potential for erosion of informed consent
• Union opposition to work place health tests that are tied to benefits
• Criticism that the approach shifts health costs from employer to unhealthy employee
• Potential conflict with the Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Act and a raft of other laws and regulations
Creating successful wellness programs
Clearly there is a need to negotiate these and other factors, and champions, both external and internal, are needed to achieve this and promote the benefits to employees and management.
Ultimately corporate well-being addresses the individual, focusing on how lifestyle and wellbeing are intimately related. For instance, it is necessary to establish how each member responds to the various work place stress factors and their ability to recover from these. Other personal influences are equally important, for instance their physical activity both at both work and leisure, their general health, and the length and quality of their sleep.
An objective approach to this is the most effective. When people believe in the results of such assessments they are far more likely to buy in to the aims of the program and work towards its success. To discover more about how to implement a wellness program in your organization, please follow this link to our Ergonomics Plus System.
Mattke S, Schnyer Ch, Van Busum KR, (2012), A Review of the U.S. Workplace Wellness Market. Rand Corporation, U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2012 July. Document Number.: OP-373-DOL.