Coworkers eating healthy

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.”

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