Do Wellness Programs Really Work?

Wellness programs have their fair share of skeptics and negative criticism, just like everything else. Every year, there are a handful of studies and articles published that state wellness programs do not work, such as this one from the University of Chicago and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Many studies similar to this, though, only seem to focus on changes in short term heath care costs and the effectiveness of monetary incentives. What is lacking in these studies when determining the success of wellness programs is the evaluation of the overall wellness cultures, support from leaders, and measurements such as decreases in stress or absenteeism. According to The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the two most important components for a successful wellness program are a focus on stress management and leadership support.

Stress Management

Whether or not an organization places emphasis on stress management plays a big role in their wellness program’s success. This is because stress can lead to many other concerns and issues that make it difficult for employees to focus on their health. In A Closer Look: 2018 Workplace Wellness Trends, a study done by the nonprofit International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP), employers stated stress management counseling services had a positive impact on their wellness programs. In addition, after adding stress management sessions to their wellness programs:

  • 53% of employers saw an increase in employee engagement and satisfaction
  • 43% noticed health screening data improvements
  • 45% cited a positive impact on health care costs

Support from Leadership

Unless all levels of leadership are committed to wellness, then the organization’s wellness program cannot be successful. Employees need to see the importance of wellness, and to show that, leaders need to be actively involved and participating in the wellness program. Leaders also need to offer their support of their employees’ wellness goals and recognize wellness achievements. The most important thing, though, is just for leaders to effectively communicate about wellness offerings and initiatives. The same IFEBP study found that:

  • 63% of the organizations that saw increases in employee engagement and satisfaction said they worked with organizational leadership on their wellness program
  • 57% of those that experienced a positive impact on health care costs had organizational leadership involved in their wellness programs

Additional Tips for Successful Wellness Programs

On top of these two components, SHRM also gives the following advice for making sure your wellness programs are successful!

  1. Make sure your culture supports wellness. In order for a wellness program to take root, the company culture must also be centered around wellness. This means incorporating things like healthy vending machines, walking meetings, or weekly lunchtime yoga classes in addition to leadership involvement.
  2. Communication is always key! Make sure all elements of your wellness program are fully communicated with everyone. Decide which materials or platforms are best for communicating with your employees, or better yet, use several! Utilize technology for this. Everything from online calendars to health apps can be used to make sure your employees are in the loop and fully understand your health initiatives.
  3. Personalization is always a plus. One sure fire way to get employees engaged with your wellness program is to make it more personalized to each employee. Individual health portal logins, access to personal health data, and one-on-one health coaching are all great ideas.

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