In 2013, the RAND Corporation published a study that put some hard numbers to the ROI on company wellness programs for employees. The results were striking.
For every dollar invested in lifestyle programs, the return on investment was 50¢. However, for every dollar invested in disease management programs, the ROI was $3.80, more than seven times as much.
Put in practical terms, many efforts to help staff kick their smoking habit or battle obesity have marginal success. But programs to help employees better manage their chronic conditions—such heart disease or diabetes—are much more effective. Reminders to take medication or to follow through with a lab test are more motivating than anti-smoking or nutritional messages.
What employers can do to better promote wellness
So how can companies encourage their employees to make lifestyle changes without coming across as overbearing or, worse, alienating? U.S. News may have the answer. A recent article in US News and World Report suggests that rather than putting the burden on employees to make lifestyle changes, employers would do better by concentrating on what they themselves could do to promote wellness. Eight ideas surfaced:
1. Provide easy access to healthy meals and snacks
Do away with the chips, candies, and soda that stock most vending machines or break rooms. Workers tend to eat those foods because they’re there. Instead, offer a regular supply of fresh fruit or other healthy snacks.
2. Make it easier for people to exercise
Employers could offer standing desks to employees who want one. Showers could be installed so workers could work out during lunch or before or after work. Encourage the formation of groups that walk or run over lunch.
3. Stop weight-loss competitions
Not everyone needs to lose weight. Workers with eating disorders might actually be harmed. And weight loss may not address such health issues as cholesterol, high blood pressure, and overall nutrition.
4. Offer great health insurance
Do your plans offer free or low-cost preventive care? Do they lower the barriers for doctors’ visits and medical attention?
At Kaiser Permanente (formerly Group Health), for instance, our plans offer free preventive care visits before the patient’s deductible starts. We also provide a number of lower cost alternatives to the office visit, including walk-in clinics (CareClinics), online visits, and a 24/7 Consulting Nurse helpline. And if they receive care at Kaiser Permanente medical offices, patients can e-mail their doctors.
5. Discourage people from coming to work sick
Too often, companies say one thing but encourage another. Workers who tough it out are praised. Managers should be clear that employees who are sick should be at home taking care of themselves. Employers should set an example by heading home themselves when they’re ill.
Kaiser Permanente stresses preventive medicine to help keep employees from getting sick in the first place. This can range from seasonal flu shots to reminders about wellness visits. As mentioned above, different avenues for care allow Group Health patients to pick an option that best suits their busy schedules.
6. Stop requiring doctors’ notes for sick employees
Some companies require a doctor’s note after a certain amount of sick time. This policy drives up the cost of care by pushing employees to medical offices for a note when they might just need rest and over-the-counter medicine. It also encourages people to come back to work sick rather than going to the trouble to get the needed note.
7. Provide reasonable amounts of paid sick time
Companies that don’t provide paid sick time to employees can expect to have employees come to work sick and infecting other workers.
8. Encourage people to actually use their vacation time
Some employees feel they can’t take time off because of job demands, deadlines, or peer pressure. But vacation time helps people de-stress and relax, two vital components of good health.