Can an Employee Wellness Program Improve Morale?

by Stephanie Faris on February 15, 2013
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If you offer health-care insurance to your employees, it’s likely one of your biggest expenses after paying their salaries. By introducing a wellness program and encouraging workers to take better care of themselves, you could save money in insurance premiums and lost productivity due to illness. According to a CDC study, wellness programs can help businesses save up to $2.43 for every $1 spent.

What’s more, a wellness program can boost employee morale and help companies attract and retain talent. Or can it? Here are a few pros and cons to consider.

The Pros

  • Employees like job perks. Businesses are partnering with Weight Watchers, Retrofit, and Nutrisystem to provide weight-loss tools at a discount or for free. These tools, sometimes offered in addition to a gym membership, enable employees to lose weight and get fit without taking a bite out of their household budgets.
  • Wellness programs foster hard work and loyalty. In a study by Principal Financial Group, 41 percent of respondents either strongly or somewhat agreed that wellness benefits made them harder-working, better-performing employees. Additionally, 40 percent of respondents stated that a wellness program would make them more likely to stay with an employer.
  • Healthy organizations attract top talent. A wellness program demonstrates that you’re committed to the well-being of your employees. When a business is recognized for its “culture of wellness,” that recognition shows the industry and the community how much it cares about its staff. Cultivating a reputation as a healthy place to work can help you attract top talent to fill job openings.
  • People appreciate lower insurance premiums. As prices go up, many employers are passing health insurance costs along to employees. Active, fit nonsmokers have to absorb these increases alongside less health-conscious co-workers. Providing a wellness program with discounts for (optional) participation allows employees to feel as though they are in control of their insurance costs.

The Cons

  • Mandatory participation can be off-putting. Some employees may even question whether employers can legally ask them to engage in healthier behaviors. The answer is yes. While federal regulations don’t allow an employer to charge different premiums to workers who don’t participate in a wellness program, employers can offer rewards-based discounts on premiums of up to 20 percent to those who do.
  • Behavioral change is a challenge for some people. Wellness programs require action on the part of employees. This often includes engaging in regular communication with a wellness coordinator, participating in health screenings, or attending seminars. Over time, employees may become resentful of these requirements, especially if they are eventually told they do not qualify for a reduced health-insurance rate because they failed to reach their goals. For the best success, create a wellness program that rewards healthy behaviors but does not punish employees for unhealthy choices.
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