When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, the new laws requiring all Americans to carry health insurance have gotten most of the attention. However, the act contained a number of other provisions related to improving Americans’ health, among them increased support and funding for employee wellness programs.
Employee wellness is not a new concept. For decades, companies have sponsored programs designed to help workers get healthy and stay that way. Some programs have been phenomenally successful and effective at engaging employees to take charge of their health; for example, Johnson & Johnson’s employee wellness initiatives have saved the company an estimated $250 million in health care costs since 1995, in addition to reducing the number of employees who smoke by two-thirds. Other programs have been well-intentioned, but not nearly as successful, with high employee attrition and low results.
Thanks to the financial and administrative support promised by the federal government as part of the ACA, many employee wellness programs are stepping up their game and taking steps to more effectively attract participants and keep them on track. Now is perhaps the best time to join your employer’s wellness program, because it can provide major benefits to both your health and your pocketbook.
Employee Wellness Programs Save Money
One of the most attractive features of most employee wellness programs is that they save participants money. Most employers offer discounts on health insurance premiums to those employees that enroll in the wellness programs and participate in certain initiatives, such as undergoing screenings or working with a health advisor to manage a chronic condition better. By some estimates, joining a wellness program can save you up to $500 per year or more on your health insurance premiums.
Employee wellness programs save cash in other ways, as well. Most programs include at least an initial screening, which may include blood tests for cholesterol, diabetes and other health conditions. These screenings are usually free and take place right at work, saving you time and a co-payment at the doctor’s office. Many programs also offer resources for chronic disease management as well. Your advisor will help you control your cholesterol levels, quit smoking, lose weight, stay on track with your diabetes treatment or manage other chronic conditions, all without having to see a doctor. The idea is that by getting the support you need from a health advisor, you will improve your overall health and have fewer complications, and eventually, even need less treatment.
Other financial benefits of employee wellness programs include discounts for gym memberships, free gear like pedometers and rewards and prizes for exercising a certain number of hours per week.
Employee Wellness Programs Help Your Career
How many sick days have you taken this year? How many days have you come in, but not really felt like working? How many times have you had to come in late or leave early because you need to see a doctor?
Studies show that when employees are unhealthy or living with chronic conditions, their productivity decreases. Absent employee employees impact productivity, but the issue of “presenteeism” is of greater concern to many companies. Presenteeism, when an employee comes to work but is unable to work at an optimum level due to personal issues, accounts for up to 60 percent of employers’ health-related costs, thanks to the loss of productivity. In short, employees who are sick or stressed often demonstrate poor performance, make mistakes and lack motivation.
Joining an employee wellness program, then, can actually help improve your work performance. Even if you aren’t treating a chronic condition or don’t have significant risk factors, employee wellness programs offer support and education on diet, exercise, stress relief and other health issues that can help you maintain your health and be on your game every day. And when you perform your best every day, there’s a good chance you’ll be in line for a promotion and fatter paycheck before you know it.
Employee Wellness Programs Offer Support
Most people who are unhealthy or who engage in unhealthy behaviors, like smoking, know that they need to make changes, but aren’t sure where to start. Trying to lose a great deal of weight, quit smoking or get your cholesterol under control is challenging enough, and even harder when you’re trying to do it on your own.
But by working with your co-workers or corporate wellness staff, you gain the support that you need to make those positive changes in your life. For example, many wellness programs offer smoking-cessation or weight-loss support groups. Even just the informal camaraderie of a group of co-workers taking steps toward better health can keep you on track; when your wellness program rewards you for exercising, for example, it’s easier to get a workout in when your department hits the gym together after work or takes a stroll around the block during lunch hour.
In most cases, employee wellness programs are voluntary, although there is a growing trend toward employers requiring workers to participate in some way. However, given the benefits of getting involved with a wellness initiative, even if you don’t have to join, it’s well worth your time to do so.