Many US companies have offered employee wellness programs for more than a decade, but healthcare reform now provides companies a greater incentive to enact wellness initiatives. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) will, by 2014, expand employers’ ability to reward employees who participate in wellness programs and meet health status goals. Likewise, the new law also expands employers’ ability to require employees who don’t meet health goals to pay more for their employer-sponsored health coverage.

There may be some debate on the policy, but there’s little debate about the benefits of workplace wellness programs. A 2002 US Department of Health and Human Services report revealed positive new statistics on worksites with physical activity programs:

  • Company healthcare costs were reduced by 20 to 55 percent
  • Short-term sick leave among employees was reduced by six to 32 percent
  • Productivity increased by two to 52 percent

Other studies have found similar benefits, such as:

  • Enhanced recruitment and retention of healthy employees
  • Lower rates of injuries and illness among workers
  • Reduced employee absenteeism
  • Improved employee relations and morale

Most adults spend the majority of their waking hours in the workplace, so that culture and environment can be a powerful influence on behavior and attitude. Therefore, a company culture that promotes healthy lifestyles can have a powerful positive influence on its employees, and ultimately benefit the entire organization.

The C. Everett Koop National Health Award, presented by The Health Project, is awarded annually to organizations that demonstrate health improvements, coupled with cost savings. This past September, past and present award winners gathered at the Health Enhancement Research Organization’s 2012 Forum for Employee Management Health Solutions to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the C. Everett Koop National Health Award.

During the forum, features of several award winning wellness programs were highlighted.

The State of Nebraska offers a wellness program for 19,000 state employees and their spouses, which includes web-based resources, health risk assessments, and on-site biometric screenings.

Retailer L. L. Bean offers its employees wellness programming, free on-site fitness centers, and subsidies for off-site gym memberships. Their program has experienced growing success — the participation rates has averaged 85% over five years, and smoking rates have decreased, from 24% in 1985 to 6% in 2011.

As part of their company wellness initiative, Prudential Financial – Health Solutions offers discounts on healthy foods in cafeterias, on-site health clinics, exercise opportunities at the on-site fitness center, and nutritious snacks in vending machines.

Lincoln Industries offers a creative program, which includes quarterly physicals for employees, a year-long physical activity challenge, health risk assessments, smoking cessation programs, health education seminars, and wellness reimbursements. As an incentive, Lincoln offers a platinum award workers who achieve specific health goals — an all-expense paid trip to climb a 14,000 foot mountain in Colorado.

The cornerstone of the Johnson & Johnson health and wellness initiative is health risk assessments and intervention. The company has seen a dramatic increase in participation in their health risk assessments by eligible domestic employees, from 26 percent in 1995 to a current rate of 90% percent.

Employees are the most valuable asset of any company, and good wellness programs go a long way in protecting that asset. Healthy employees tend to be happier, more productive, and stay around longer, so wellness programs are a proven employee benefit that benefits not only the employees, but the entire organization.

VISICOR is a full-service employee benefits brokerage and consulting firm located in Houston, Texas, serving mid-size to large public and private organizations. VISICOR can be reached by phone at (281) 824-3124 or at www.visicor.net