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Designing and Managing Your Health and Wellness Program

Jeff Myhre

Jeff Myhre

health and wellness

health and wellnessHealth and wellness programs are one of the most effective ways to enhance employee engagement and retention. These programs prove the organization genuinely cares about how staff members feel. That’s why 81% of large companies and 49% of small firms have one.

But there are pitfalls to health and wellness programs. Costs are always a concern. Utilization is another and effectiveness is a third. None of these are reasons to ignore the value of health and wellness programs, though. They are reasons to be careful when developing and implementing them. You could spend a load of money on a consultant who’ll guide you through the process of creating a bespoke plan for your staff and, as with all consultants, there’s no upper limit on what you can pay.

C-Suite Support for Health and Wellness

The first thing every consultant who expects to get paid will ask is whether the top management people are on board. Unless the C-suite is sold on the idea, the uphill battle you face may well be lost before it begins. Their buy in is vital.

Ask the Staff

Next, ask the staff what they want and expect from this type of program. Remember, in this case, they’re your customers. It will be up to them to determine whether the program succeeds or fails. So, find out what they want. Maybe they want tae kwon do classes instead of yoga in the basement gym. Or maybe they want healthier food choices in the break room.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly one-third (32%) of total employee-compensation costs are related to employee benefits. While 63% of employees say healthcare benefits are very important to their job satisfaction, only 31% say they’re satisfied with their benefits. Go find out what will satisfy them and make sure you build that into what you create.

health and wellnessThis is where costs raise their ugly heads first. You probably won’t be able to afford everything on everyone’s list. Bean counting is going to matter. When you decide what to include and what to put on the waiting list, don’t forget to calculate the projected savings in other areas. Sometimes, it’s difficult to get an idea of how much you save, but if your employee-wellness program is built right, there will be savings. Moreover, some employees will benefit more than others, but all will realize savings in many areas.

Get the Focus Right

A health and wellness program is just like any other kind of benefit. A 401(k) isn’t any good if the employee doesn’t use it, and the same is true of health and wellness efforts. You have to make sure they know what they can get out of it and what they need to put into it. Video is the best way to get the point across. This is especially true of health and wellness programs. You want people to go to the gym? Show them the equipment and facilities – a thousand words won’t get the job done as well as the visuals will.

Small Firms Can Do It, Too

Naturally, large corporations can do more than small ones because the budget and volume of users permits it. Once upon a time, I worked for a Wall Street advisory firm that had its own building near the World Trade Center. There was a gym in the basement: four treadmills, a full set of weight machines, and an exercise room for yoga and martial arts. There was a full-time trainer, locker rooms and showers. Odds are, your company can’t provide that unless you, too, work for that kind of company. But no gym in the world would turn down five, ten or twenty new members from your business if you sat down and negotiated a discount for membership with them.

Mental Health

Of course, there’s more to this than exercise. Proper dietary habits and substance-abuse treatment should be built into your program as well. And this brings us to what I consider the last taboo in American society – mental health. A lot of the time food, alcohol and drugs are not the problem so much as they are the symptom. It’s one thing to let yourself go a little bit over the holidays with extra dessert, and it’s quite another to eat an entire cheesecake because (fill in the blank).

Often referred to as binge eating, compulsive overeating is an addiction to food that helps meet any of the following needs: to hide from emotions, to fill an emotional void, to cope with daily stresses and problems. – Dual

These are largely the same reasons people wind up as alcoholics or addicted to drugs.

employee wellnessMental health, however, is not something insurers like to pay for. Break your leg, and the emergency room bill is probably going to be covered. Have an anxiety attack so bad you wind up in the same emergency room, and there’s a good chance you’ll pay for it out of your own pocket. We have 22 veterans committing suicide every day – that is a major failing. The trouble is, there isn’t really a way to measure mental-health-treatment successes (suicides not committed for instance).

I ran across a piece from the Huffington Post a while back that made me stop in my tracks:

According to the World Health Organization, depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Regardless of a country’s economic development, national income or culture, the growth of mental illness worldwide, and specifically depression, is a global issue of concern. Based on the results of a study from the London School of Economics and Political Science, ‘collectively, depression is costing the nations of Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Mexico, South Africa and the United States more than $246 billion per year.’

That’s just depression. Throw in a few other mental illnesses, like PTSD and anxiety disorders, and the numbers just grow.

Do Something, Not Everything

Can you do it all? No, and you shouldn’t try. In health and wellness, as in most things, “perfect” is the enemy of the good. Ideally, every person in your organization would have a tailor-made program to enhance their overall wellbeing. Realistically, you should create a program that’s flexible enough to address many of your workforce’s issues, and it should be reviewed regularly to make sure you’re delivering what you want to deliver. Build on your successes and, above all, don’t leave out the mental aspect of health and wellness.

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