Corporate wellness programs began as a way for employers to cut rising healthcare costs and many introduced weight loss, fitness and smoking cessation programs to make their workers healthier. But now, employers are realizing wellness has a purpose way beyond medical savings and are focusing on creating a culture where workers are mentally, socially and physically healthy.
At Bankers Healthcare Group in Davie, the new holistic approach has caught on. Throughout the day, some employees retreat to a chill-out room where they do nothing but breathe deeply or sit in silence. Others hit the gym for a fitness bootcamp or visit with a dietician to gather healthy recipes.
“It’s all about getting into the minds of employees and having them focused on good health,” says Chrisie Allemand, wellness manager at Bankers Healthcare Group. “It’s no longer about health screenings and assessments. It’s about seeing our employees moving more, eating better and feeling good.”
With the evolution of corporate wellness, measuring the amount spent to get workers healthy against the savings on medical costs, also known as return on investment, became less important. “That approach didn’t gain traction because [return on investment] is too difficult to measure,” says LuAnn Heinen, vice president at the National Business Group on Health, an employer advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. “Now it is about the bigger picture — having happy, flourishing, engaged employees who have a sense of well-being.”
The new direction of corporate wellness, touted as Wellness 2.0, includes programs that address emotional needs such as stress management, sleep management, financial health, work/life balance, and social and community connections. “Employees who are more connected interpersonally at work are happier, healthier, less likely to call in sick and more likely be there for their teammates,” Heinen says.
The number of employers buying into a broader focus on the value of wellness is growing rapidly. A 2015 Willis Health and Productivity survey shows nearly two-thirds or 64 percent of the 703 respondents with wellness programs in place described themselves as more focused “on value of investment” including building a culture of health, teamwork and morale, and improving productivity. That compares with 28 percent who said they are more focused on return on investment, the survey found.
“More organization are realizing that the expectation of an immediate return on investment for their wellness programs through medical cost reduction is unlikely,” said Dr. Ronald Leopold, Willis Practice Leader in Health Outcomes.
At NextEra Energy, which launched its wellness program in 1991, health education and biometric screenings have become a small component of its comprehensive effort to encourage employee well-being. The Juno Beach utility, formerly FPL Energy, has always had an on-site gym and fitness classes, but now it also provides employees on-site doctors, nurses and dieticians. It offers workshops on stress management, resiliency, nutrition, meditation and weight management, and an on-site Employee Assistance Program specialist.
“We think [that] through these programs, we have the ability to attract, retain and engage people,” says Andrew Scibelli, manager of employee health and well-being.
Rather than tracking cost savings, NextEra measures success through employee surveys.
“Employees have told us it is one reason why they come here to work, and why they stay here,” he says. “They talk about how engaged they feel when the company cares enough to provide services to improve their health and they tell us it’s a good investment for the company’s money.”
With this new approach, employers are forsaking the old way of paying or punishing workers through insurance premium discounts to coax them to participate in wellness offerings to encourage employees to get healthy and balanced by making wellness social and fun. For example, more companies now encourage team participation in corporate or charity runs to encourage wellness, collaboration and community involvement.
The payoff value of these more comprehensive programs includes better morale and loyalty and a reduction in turnover. That can be particularly crucial for an organization that wants to engage millennials.
With workplace stress rising, Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors and Accountants in Miami, looks at its wellness program as a way to keep young workers motivated and help its accounting professionals weather its busy seasons. The firm provides its staff with Fitbit wearable fitness trackers and sponsors friendly competitions such as who can walk the most steps as individuals or groups. It offers employees healthy meal delivery and healthy recipe exchanges.
To help with mental health, the firm hosts 3 p.m. stress-relief breaks, lunch and learn workshops on work/life balance and mindfulness. For physical health, it offers Zumba classes, weight-loss competitions and team participation in corporate runs.
“Our goal is to create a culture of firm members who choose to have a healthy lifestyle and are happy in the environment they are working in,” says Celia Cue, human resources director for the firm. “In the long run, that’s what will affect our costs.”