Workplace wellness is a combination of educational, organizational and environmental activities designed to support behavior conducive to the health of employees in a business. It offers a combination of health education, medical screenings, health coaching, weight management programs and fitness programs designed to change employees’ behavior to achieve better health and reduced health risks.
While the stated goal of our corporate workplace wellness programs is to improve employee health, many U.S. employers have turned to them to help alleviate the impact of enormous increases in health insurance premiums experienced over the last decade. Some employers have also begun varying the amount paid by their employees for health insurance based on participation in these programs. Wellness programs are being implemented across the country in large and small companies, and the results are positively impacting the bottom line.
Part of the reason for the growth of healthcare costs to employers is the rise in obesity-related illnesses brought about by lack of physical activity. In 2000 the health costs of overweight and obesity were estimated at $117 billion. Each year obesity contributes to an estimated 112,000 preventable deaths. An East Carolina University study of individuals aged 15 and older without physical limitations found that the average annual direct medical costs were $1,019 for those who are regularly physically active and $1,349 for those who reported being inactive. Being overweight increases yearly per person health care costs by $125, while obesity increases costs by $395. A survey of North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services employees found that approximately 70 cents of every healthcare dollar was spent to treat employees who had one or more chronic conditions, two thirds of which can be attributed to three major lifestyle risk factors: physical inactivity, poor diet, and tobacco use.
A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report revealed that at worksites with exercise programs as components of their wellness programs: healthcare costs decreased from 75 to 55%, short-term sick leave was lowered from 38 to 32%, and productivity increased from 50 to 52%.
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who studied successful strategies to prevent cardiovascular disease estimated that over a two-to-five year period, companies with comprehensive workplace wellness programs and appropriate health plans in place can yield $3 to $6 for each dollar invested, all while reducing the likelihood of employee heart attacks and strokes. In general, it is estimated that worksite health promotion programs result in a benefit-to-cost ratio of $3.48 in reduced health care costs and $5.82 in lower absenteeism costs per dollar invested, according to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services. Additionally, worksite health programs can improve productivity, increase employee satisfaction, demonstrate concern for employees, and improve morale in the workplace.