At Zenefits, we believe that managing health insurance for employees should be simple. But when it comes to the more ambiguous aspects of employee benefits, such as workplace wellness, employers typically need a less-automated answer.
“A program intended to improve and promote health and fitness that’s usually offered through the work place, although insurance plans can offer them directly to their enrollees. The program allows your employer or plan to offer you premium discounts, cash rewards, gym memberships, and other incentives to participate. Some examples of wellness programs include programs to help you stop smoking, diabetes management programs, weight loss programs, and preventative health screenings.” (HealthCare.gov)
Simply put, workplace wellness is an employer-sponsored program for promoting long-term employee health and reducing total insurance spend.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2016 Employer Health Benefits Survey, 83% of large firms (200+ employees) offer a wellness program in smoking cessation, weight management, or behavioral/lifestyle coaching. Of these large firms, 42% offer financial incentives including lower premium contributions and cash for employee participation.
Proponents of workplace wellness programs argue that an emphasis on employee health will save companies money in the long run. Opponents, however, expect higher total spends due to an increase in health screenings and the general promotion of “unnecessary care.” The question that both groups eventually come to is whether or not the emphasis on wellness actually improves employee health long-term. Employees who don’t participate in their companies’ wellness programs can end up paying more than they would in companies without such programs.
Shifting this cost of care to employees isn’t just about saving companies money. According to a 2016 survey by the Rand Corporation, penalizing employees for failing to participate or meet benchmarks is a more effective motivator than high-value incentives.
The efficacy of wellness programs at work is a widely debated topic, and there isn’t one solution for all businesses. While certain initiatives can help employees improve quality of life with objectives such as smoking cessation and weight loss, others may take you further away from your business goals.
Before you hire a specialized firm to create your workplace wellness program, check in with employees to gauge the general level of interest. Creating a custom (and possibly optional) wellness program will show your employees that you’re their partner, setting your team up for success.
For a comprehensive overview of corporate wellness plans, download our free eBook, Your Ultimate Guide to Workplace Wellness Programs.
This article was originally published on February 28, 2017.