Don’t be too quick to dismiss your organization’s new health and wellness effort as just a passing trend. Recent research shows that workplace wellness programs maintained consistently over time save employers money in long-term health care costs.
Highmark, Inc., Pennsylvania’s biggest health insurer and one of the largest in the United States, published a study in the March/April 2011 issue of American Journal of Health Promotion that found health care costs of wellness plan participants rose 31 percent over the course of four years, compared to 46 percent for those not involved in the program. This 15 percent difference saved the company the equivalent of $336 per participant over the four years.
The study measured the effectiveness of workplace wellness programs by simultaneously tracking 10,000 wellness plan participants at 47 Highmark employer groups, as well as a risk-matched comparison group. The research concluded that even online programs had a positive effect on health care costs for participants. Employees who were involved in work health and wellness programs also had an increased tendency to seek preventive care.
From a Highmark, Inc. press release:
The study also found that wellness program participants developed a greater tendency to pursue preventive services such as preventive physicals, mammograms and cancer screenings, than their comparison group counterparts, possibly as a result of self-care knowledge obtained from their worksite wellness programs. Preventive care measures often cost employers more in the short term, but can help to save longer-term health care costs.
In a separate study, researchers at the University of Michigan tracked the financial impact of workplace wellness programs in a Midwest utility company over the span of nine years. During that time, the company spent $7.3 million to implement and maintain the program and discovered $12.1 million in savings associated with participation– including medical and pharmacy costs, time off and worker’s compensation– a total net savings of $4.8 million.
The University of Michigan study differed in three ways from other studies, according to researchers:
First, it shows that wellness programs work long-term, even though the employees who participated aged during the study. Second, the study took into account all bottom line costs for implementing the wellness plan. For instance, indirect costs such as recruitment and costs for changing menus. Most studies include just the direct costs to the company for paying for employees who participate. But even using the very conservative U-M figures showed a cost savings, Yen said. A third difference is that it looked at lost work time as well as pharmacy and medical costs, Schultz said.
The long-term wellness of your staff should be a high priority, not only because you care about your employees’ physical health, but because you also care about your organization’s financial health. Investing money in workplace wellness programs over a long period of time can insure that you have a healthy and productive staff, while saving a substantial amount of money on health care costs.
1. Build the program sustainably and gradually.
It takes time to build a strong program and gain the support of involved employees. Don’t expect to see results overnight, but carefully plan and implement a wellness program that fits your organization’s needs.
2. Get employee buy-in.
A wellness plan may be for the benefit of the organization as a whole, but remember that it also has to be appealing and useful to employees as individuals. When you start a wellness program, get input and feedback from participants and take into account what they would like to see.
3. Make it fun.
If workplace wellness programs feel like work, they are less likely to be successful. Find opportunities to make activities, resources and other program offerings fun and enjoyable. Check out a few ideas to get started in your organization.
What do you think of wellness plans at work? Do you have one in your organization?