Workplace Wellness Programs and Employee Productivity

Recent market data show that corporate wellness programs in the U.S. are an $8 billion industry. With a projected growth rate of 7.8 percent through 2021, the industry doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Rising number of competitors, increasing technological advancements, and spiraling healthcare costs are driving companies to actively invest in the well-being of their employees. Some of the top health concerns that employers wish to address include work-related stress, depression, on-site injuries and non-communicable diseases.

Statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that:

  • Every year, employee absenteeism amounts to $225.8 billion in costs.
  • The top four ailments among employees are high blood pressure, chest pain, diabetes and heart attack.
  • 38 percent of the U.S. working population has no paid sick leave.
  • Employees working while they are sick account for two-thirds of all corporate health costs.

The United States has one of the longest working hours in the developed world. In fact, Americans work 200 additional hours every year. With rising market pressure and corporate costs, companies are introducing innovative workplace wellness programs for their employees. Each program has its own rewards and addresses core employee issues.

1. Harnessing Technology for Wellness Programs

UnitedHealthcare recently conducted a study “Wellness Checkup” which interviewed 609 full-time employees across the United States. 60 percent of respondents who had access to a workplace wellness program stated that the corporate initiatives had a positive impact on their health. The study also found that 25 percent of the employees owned a fitness tracker. By tapping into this trend, many companies are syncing wearables with employee health targets.

Example: Indiana University Health introduced the Fitbit Challenge to its employees. At the conclusion of the three-month step challenge, 40 percent of the 4,000 participants experienced a decrease in their Body Mass Index (BMI), while 67 percent reported greater stress management and healthier eating habits.

2. Promoting Healthy Eating Habits

In the U.S., the average full-time employee eats one in four meals during work hours. Owing to the fast-paced nature of corporate culture, the majority of workers will consume foods that are high in saturated fats, refined sugar, and sodium. On the contrary, food prepared at home tends to be packed with nutrition. But as Americans cook less and eat out more, the country’s obesity epidemic continues to balloon. Thus, companies that invest in actively promoting healthy eating habits experience greater employee output and less absenteeism.

Example: The mega-feeder Sodexo has joined the Meatless Monday campaign in an effort to promote vegetarian dietary options throughout its corporate, healthcare and college centers across the United States. That amounts to 10 million people every day. By committing to plant-rich meals at the start of the work week, Sodexo is providing its employees with diverse and nutritious plant proteins like quinoa, lentil, and tofu.

3. Smoking Cessation Programs

It is common knowledge that workers who smoke create more costs for their employers. According to a 2013 study by Ohio State University, employees who smoked cost their companies $5,800 on an average every year. Costs can aggregate from factors like smoke breaks, excessive absenteeism and nicotine addiction. As a result, many companies have started to offer smoking cessation programs, both on moral and financial grounds.

Example: The Union Pacific Railroad provides a smoking cessation program for its employees, that includes lifestyle coaching, moral support and pharmacological assistance. Between the 1990s to 2007, the number of workers who smoked dropped from 40 percent to a mere 17 percent.

Workplace wellness programs have repeatedly demonstrated their positive impact on employee productivity and corporate healthcare costs. Investing in them is a smart move in terms of long-term benefits. As summarized by Soeren Mattke, lead author of the 2013 Rand Report, one of the most comprehensive analyses of wellness programs,

“We find that workplace wellness programs can help contain the current epidemic of lifestyle-related diseases, the main driver of premature morbidity and mortality as well as health care cost in the United States.”

Simple Ways to Increase Productivity By Keeping Employees Happy

Have you ever had a job where you arrive to work each day and had to force yourself to walk through the front doors? Chances are you have employees who feel the same way from time to time. It’s important to strive to make your workplace a place people want to work. When employees are engaged and feel like the company cares about their needs, the result is higher productivity rates and less employee turnover. Happy employees increase productivity. There are several things that those in leadership roles can do to make the workplace more enjoyable for employees.

Make the Workplace Feel Like a Home

While keeping the company image and safety in mind, allow employees to make their workspaces feel more like a home. Full-time employees spend most of their waking hours during the week at work. It is important that they feel at home while doing their jobs. Being comfortable increases mental focus, and the result is better productivity. Encourage employees to decorate their offices and cubicles with workplace appropriate artwork, trinkets from home, plants, candy dishes, and other items that personalize their space.

Implement Kaizen Events to Increase Productivity

Kaizen Event is a 5-day program that is aimed at reducing time waste and increasing productivity in the workplace. These events are led by a facilitator. They provide employees with the opportunity to be part of the solution in developing workflow processes that are efficient. Kaizen is a Japanese word for “improvement” and involves a 5-step process:

  1. Sort: The first step of the Kaizen process is to get rid of the junk. Consider this the spring cleaning phase of the event. Your team cleans out closets, desks, storage rooms, and other areas of the workplace.
  2. Set in Order: This is the organization phase where your team will create a permanent home for all supplies and equipment so they will always know where to look for things they need in the future.
  3. Shine: Employees spend this day cleaning and sanitizing the workplace. A clean work environment enhances workplace morale almost instantly.
  4. Standardize: In this step, employees and their supervisors devise ways to standardize work processes with the goal of increasing productivity, reducing time waste, and creating more efficient practices.
  5. Sustain: While going about their day-to-day activities, employees will be encouraged to maintain the new work practices and organization techniques they learned during the event.

Kaizen events increase productivity and give employee morale a boost because employees get to be part of the solution and design workflow processes that work well for them.

Relaxing Community Areas

Workplace stress caused by overwhelming workloads, tight deadlines, chaotic schedules, and demanding bosses leads to employees becoming disengaged from the work they are doing. When employees are not engaged, productivity suffers. Provide employees with a place where they can relax and unwind. They should be able to recharge to go back to their desk ready to tackle the next challenge.

  • Employee Lounge: Instead of setting up a few tables, chairs, a microwave, and a coffee pot in room and calling it an employee lunchroom, create a tranquil space for your employees to relax during their scheduled breaks. An employee lounge should include comfortable couches, a TV, reading materials, soothing artwork, and even some elements of nature like plants and flowers.
  • Community Garden: If your workplace includes an outdoor area or courtyard, provide basic supplies so that employees can work in a community garden together. Gardening is effective at reducing stress as it encourages creativity, focusing on the moment, and learning about the natural elements of the world.
  • Exercise Room: There is nothing like a good workout to make a person feel human again. An employee exercise room encourages health and well-being in the workplace. It also provides them with a place to blow off some steam after a hard day. Exercise rooms should include weight equipment, treadmills, a space for yoga, showers, and even exercise balls.

Employees are the heart and soul of any successful business. In order to increase productivity, they need to feel engaged and enjoy coming to work each day. Provide your employees with a better work environment and places they can alleviate stress. As a result, you will get to enjoy lower turnover rates and a better bottom line.