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Wellness Programs: Making the Decision Essay

“Work place wellness is an organized, employer-sponsored program that is designed to support employees (and sometimes their families) as they adopt and sustain behaviours that reduce health risks, improve quality of life, enhance personal effectiveness, and benefit the organization’s bottom line” (Berry, 2010). This definition covers the relevant components of all-inclusive wellness programs. Companies want to gain benefits of wellness programs while avoiding problems.

BENEFITS
Higher Productivity results in an elevated level of output by employees taking advantage of wellness programs. Higher employee morale and loyalty build employee trust in management and create a positive work environment where employees are more likely to stay with the company. Lower health care costs improve the company’s bottom line and encourage management to value wellness programs.

PROBLEMS OF WELLNESS PROGRAMS
Management disinterest negatively affects the success of corporate wellness programs. Measurement of wellness programs presents a challenge to corporations and may make or break the success of the program. Low employee participation levels present a challenge to successful programs.

RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Establish leadership and obtain support from the “top”.

2. Develop support from everyone.
3. Acknowledge current, informal activities and collect baseline data.

4. Identify the key needs and expectations of the workplace.

5. Develop a detailed plan.
6. Put the plan into action.
7. Monitor, evaluate, and maintain the program.

INTRODUCTION
What is a corporate wellness program? What are the benefits? What are the inherent problems and possible solutions for effective programs? Finally, how can an effective wellness program be implemented? All of these questions are relevant to a company considering the establishment of a wellness program. Companies want to reap the benefits of higher productivity, higher employee morale and loyalty, and lower health costs. Achieving these benefits involves overcoming management disinterest, measurement difficulties, and low participation rates.

DEFINITIONS
The North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund state that “workplace wellness programs provide the access, opportunity, support, and encouragement needed for workers to actively participate in improving their health” (2004).

Michael Mulvihill defines corporate wellness as “a set of organized activities and . . . interventions, offered through corporations/worksites, managed care organizations, and government/community agencies, whose primary purposes are to provide health education, identify modifiable health risks, and influence health behaviour changes” (2003). While these definitions are adequate, Berry, in the Harvard Business Review, defines wellness programs this way:

Work place wellness is an organized, employer-sponsored program that is designed to support employees (and sometimes their families) as they adopt and sustain behaviours that reduce health risks, improve quality of life, enhance personal effectiveness, and benefit the organization’s bottom line. (2010)

BENEFITS
Successful wellness programs offer companies several benefits: Higher Productivity results in an elevated level of output by employees taking advantage of wellness programs. Corporate wellness plans increase productivity levels by decreasing stress and depression through employee-oriented programs Decreased stress boosts employee focus resulting in increased productivity. A rise in energy levels may develop due to weight loss and healthy eating.

“A 2009 study . . . of absenteeism and presenteeism among 50,000 workers at 10 employers showed that lost productivity costs are 2.3 times higher than medical and pharmacy costs” (Berry, 2010). Presenteeism occurs when employees are working but productivity is low because of wellness issues. Wellness issues include physical, mental, emotional, and social wellbeing. Improving wellness leads to higher levels of productivity. Higher employee morale and loyalty build employee trust in management and create a positive work-environment where employees are more likely to stay with the company.

Employee morale increases with wellness programs because exercise and nutrition improve energy levels and overall health. Wellness programs provide stress relief and increased social interaction with co-workers . For example, an office weight-loss challenge encourages friendly competition where people support and work together to achieve their weight loss goals.

Wellness programs increase employee loyalty because employees feel appreciated by management. When an employee is satisfied in their position, they will stay with the company. A study by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health shows that highly effective wellness programs result in lower levels of employee turnover. Biltmore tourism enterprise’s rate of turnover decreased from 19 percent in 2005 to 9 percent in 2009. The company attributes this to their wellness program .

Lower health care costs improve the company’s bottom line and encourage management to value wellness programs. Direct health care costs to the company may include private medical coverage fees, disability claims, and worker’s compensation. A healthy workforce will result in lower costs in these areas.

Berry cites a study where employees received cardiac rehab and exercise training. The rate of high-risk employees was 57 percent and within six months these people were low-risk. Medical claim costs dropped for participants compared to the previous year. The control group showed no
improvements (2010).

Management looks at the return on investment. “[Johnson & Johnson’s] leaders estimate that wellness programs have cumulatively saved the company $250 million on health care costs over the past decade; from 2002 to 2008, the return was $2.71 for every dollar spent”. (Berry, 2010)

PROBLEMS OF WELLNESS PROGRAMS AND THEIR SOLUTIONS
Management disinterest negatively affects the success of corporate wellness programs. Management, at all levels, may not recognize or believe in the value of a wellness program. This attitude will spread to the employees. If managers don’t emphasize the importance of wellness, employees won’t value the program. Staff rely on management for clues as to what is fundamental to the company. Employees will follow the supervisor’s example regarding participation in wellness programs.

The importance of a wellness program must be clearly communicated to all levels of management so that everyone is on the same page concerning goals.

Management needs to actively support and visibly contribute to the program. Lindahl suggests that CEO’s “actively endorse and visibly participate” in their company’s wellness program, that senior and middle managers allow employees to take part on company time, and that frontline managers encourage use of the program through organized breaks and flex time for exercise (2011). Berry also advises that middle managers adopt a personal health goal as a unit business goal (2010).

These actions reflect a commitment by management to the success of the wellness program. Employees will see that wellness is an important value of the company. A wellness program needs high participation levels in order to be successful.

Measurement of wellness programs presents a challenge to corporations and may make or break the success of the program.

The lack of concrete evidence about the measurable benefits of wellness programs may result in its failure and cancellation. Management’s attitude may be negatively affected by the lack of information about its return on investment. Employees may begin to question the value of the program without proof of goal achievement, and participation rates may drop as a result.

The key to overcoming this roadblock is careful planning before the program begins.

Define the goals of the program.
Collect “benchmark data” from employee health screening “as a basis for comparison”. Once initial data are collected, comparisons can be made for different time periods, such as six month or yearly evaluations.

Mulvihill suggests the evaluation of (1) program participation levels, (2) participant satisfaction levels, (3) perceived health status, and (4) specific health outcomes (2003). Lindahl adds “outcome metrics” such as medical claims, disability rates, and worker’s compensation claims as compared to the previous year (2010). These measurements provide evidence to show management the effectiveness of the program by reaching its initial goals.

Low participation rates raise another serious challenge to the effectiveness of wellness programs. Employee disinterest creates the greatest challenge to effective wellness programs. Reasons for non-participation may include:

lack of time
no perceived benefit
dislike of exercise
unaware of services
unsupportive managers
mistrust of management’s motives.

Additionally, privacy issues about the handling of employee medical information affect participation rates.

Effective communication can overcome employee indifference and privacy
concerns. Lindahl suggests that “all aspects of the program be communicated in a clear, straight-forward manner and through multiple channels” (2011). Berry advises that the message be tailored to the audience, delivered through various media, and reinforced through wellness awareness in the workplace. For example, MD Anderson provides bike racks and shower facilities for employees which create wellness awareness (2011). The message should focus on the benefits to the employee.

Effective wellness programs provide employees with opportunities to participate in wellness activities during their workday. Companies should offer easy access to relevant health information and opportunities to participate in programs. This may include on-line health information and communication resources as well as on-site health fairs and fitness areas. Positive incentives may overcome employee disinterest.

Discounts on medical insurance or co-pays, extra vacation days, or bonuses tied to individual involvement increase participation rates. Johnson & Johnson’s participation rate is above 80 percent due to a reduction in personal health insurance contribution . Once employees begin to realize the personal benefits of wellness, disinterest will vanish.

Employee perception of the quality and “fun factor” of the program affects participation rates. A high-quality program that is enjoyable attracts employees. Services provided should be low cost or no cost to the employee .

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Implementing effective wellness programs presents companies with a complex task requiring careful planning, excellent communication, and regular evaluation. Most businesses benefit from a wellness program tailored to specific needs. Different organizations exhibit different needs and require unique program components.

A small business of twenty employees can’t afford to establish an on-site fitness facility but may be able to partner with a local gym to provide discounted memberships. Companies benefit from individually tailored programs. The following guidelines will ensure a successful wellness program in your workplace. A joint management committee will promote and stabilize a program within your organization.

Be clear about:
Objectives – Develop clear, measureable goals.
Audience – Target all staff.
Program focus – Decide initial target areas of wellness and tone of the program.

Be sure to:
Train all levels of management in the objectives of the program to persuade staff to get on board. Support from all levels of management is required for the program to run smoothly. Offer options to employees. Staff select the components of the program which are personally beneficial.

These seven steps will assist your company in implementing a wellness program. 1. Establish leadership and obtain support from the “top”. This includes the CEO, senior and middle managers, and frontline managers. This leadership and support will help your employees feel comfortable with the new program and develop trust in their bosses.

2. Develop support from everyone. Communicate with internal staff and health-related committees as well as external health community resources to support your wellness program.

3. Acknowledge current, informal activities and collect baseline data. Acknowledge and encourage involvement in current wellness activities, such as lunch-time walking groups, to tap into positive attitudes. Collect baseline data to measure participant growth and progress. Positive results will provide an incentive to continue to work towards program goals.

4. Identify the key needs and expectations of the workplace. Conduct personal surveys and health-risk assessments to determine employee needs. Clearly define the intermediate and long-term benefits for employees.

5. Develop a detailed plan. Prioritize and set targets and timelines based on the previous steps. The plan should meet the objectives of the program and
satisfy employee needs. Ensure availability of adequate resources and funding so that all interested employees may participate.

6. Put the plan into action. Communicate the program through advertisements, formal presentations, and meetings. External resources, such as the YMCA, provide additional support (see Appendix A).

7. Monitor, evaluate, and maintain the program. Track results of your program to identify strengths and weaknesses. Adjustment of long and short term goals improves the likelihood of success. Don’t be afraid to alter the program if necessary. Review progress with employees and collect feedback. Examine baseline records and compare to current results to evaluate the company’s wellness objectives.

Works Cited
Berry, L. L. (2010, December). What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs? Harvard Business Review , 88 (12), pp. 104-112. Brown, M. (1996, July). Survival of the Fittest. Management Today , p. 74. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. (2009, February 2). Workplace Health and Wellness Program-Getting Started.

Retrieved November 3, 2011 from CCOHS:http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/pyschosicial/wellness-programs.html Cooper, C. (1996, December). Healthy, Wealthy and Wise. Incentive , 170 (12), p. 25. Employee Wellness Programs. (2007). Employee Wellness Programs Simplified. Retrieved October 27, 2011 from http://www.employee-wellness-programs.com/employee-wellness-programs.html Hillier, D. F. (2005, October). Wellness at Work: Enhancing the Quality of our Working Lives. International Review of Psychiatry , 17 (5), pp. 419-431. Infinite Wellness Solutions. (2006).

Corporate Wellness Programs. Retrieved October 26, 2011 from http://www.infinitewellnesssolutions.com/corporate-wellness-programs.html Lindahl, E. (2011, Sept/OCt). Employee Wellness Programs. American Fitness , 29 (5), pp. 54-56. Mulvihill, M. (2003, 4th Quarter). The Definition and Core Practices of Wellness. Journal of Employee Assistance , 13-15. North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund. (2004). Workplace Wellness Toolkit.

Retrieved October 27, 2011 from fittogether: www.fittogethernc.org/workplacewellnessabout.aspx#top Regence. (2011, October 18). Workplace Wellness Program Saves Regence $9.2 Million. Retrieved October 25, 2011 from News.Gnom.es: National Newswire Service: http://news.gnom.es/news/workplace-wellness-program-saves-regence-9-2-million YMCA. (n.d.). Wellness at Work. Retrieved 2011 йил 03-11 from ymcamke: http://www.ymcamke.org/YMCA/documents/YMCA_CWPbrochure.pdf


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