These days, it seems like employee wellness plans are all the rage. And it’s for good reason: Wellness programs can make your employees healthier, more productive, and they can drastically reduce overall healthcare costs for your business.
But while the positive aspects of an employee wellness plan usually outweigh the negatives, it’s important to understand that these plans don’t always work for everyone. Many employee wellness plans require employees to fill out “health risk assessments,” which ask personal details about health history. While it’s perfectly legal for a company to ask these questions—they can even legally dock your pay for refusing—many feel these health risk assessments infringe upon personal privacy.
That’s not the only possible issue. Wellness plans can also alienate employees by putting pressure on them to change their lifestyles when they have no wish to change. For example, not every smoker wants to quit smoking. Attempting to impose a wellness plan on employees who want no part of it can lead to awkward confrontations, and even to valuable employees quitting their jobs if the pressure is too high.
One more potentially negative issue to consider about employee wellness plans is that they aren’t guaranteed to save you money. A poorly designed plan can actually cost far more—over both the short and long run—than it will save. Health education, screenings, exercise equipment, and healthy snacks can all be expensive, so you need to make sure you’re making intelligent choices about how to best allocate funds for your wellness program.
Hopefully these potential pitfalls of wellness programs haven’t dissuaded you, because there can be tons of positives to these plans as well. The fact is, wellness programs wouldn’t be as popular as they are (nearly 90% of large-scale employers throughout the U.S. offer some level of wellness plan to employees) if they didn’t usually work.
Take mega-employer Johnson & Johnson for example. They instituted a wellness program in 1995, and since then the number of smokers working for the company has dropped by two-thirds, and the number of employees suffering from high blood pressure declined by about 50%. For every dollar they spent on employee wellness between 2002 and 2008, they reported a return of $2.71. That’s a very successful program—and with various monetary wellness initiative incentives now provided by the Affordable Care Act, these returns will probably hold strong.
But the real benefit of a well-structured employee wellness program is improving the health of your workforce. Many of these benefits can be unquantifiable: For example, you can’t put a number on better attitudes around the office. You can, however, offer your employees metric programs to help them track their progress as they improve their health. This often encourages other employees to follow suit until your company is ideally full of happy, healthy people.
Is an employee wellness program right for your business? You need to weigh the pros and cons for yourself—but as our healthcare legislation moves toward encouraging a more preventative model of care, a wellness program is something you should definitely consider.