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June 20, 2008

HR Fact Friday: The Wellness Value Proposition

Filed under: Benefits10:33 am

HRN was recently presented with the opportunity by a national fitness club to participate in their Corporate Wellness Program. This program provides discounted gym memberships and other fitness related perks to participating employees. The value proposition being presented was that by providing this comprehensive wellness benefit to employees, the employer would raise morale and improve the health and fitness of employees resulting in fewer sick days and lower health care costs over time.

This brought up a conversation between my boss and I that went something like, “If HRN were to provide an additional perk type benefit to our employees, what would it be? Is wellness the way to go at this time?”  Would the whole idea backfire if interest was low and the employees that didn’t want to participate resented the ones that did utilize the benefit?


Of course, one perk that has universal appeal is cash. One could argue that cash reduces stress which improves wellness. Gas prices here in Utah, like everywhere else are squeezing employee finances and family budgets. What if we offered each employee a $20 gas card per month? That would be fine . . . but for how long would this benefit be offered and would it contribute to lowering health care expenses and reducing sick days? How would we end the gas card giveaway without employee’s feeling like something is being taken away? Once you offer a ‘perk’ type benefit, even if it is free bottled water in the break room, you can’t eliminate it without having employees feel like something is being taken from them or that the business is on the brink of financial collapse.

In an article in the June issue of HR Magazine, Susan J. Wells writes about finding wellness program ROI. The most obvious measurement of ROI would be expressed as a ratio of savings to spending. The savings would be in lower health insurance expenditures and sick time and the expenditures would be health insurance costs and wellness benefits expenses.

According to the 2008 Employee Benefits Survey Report by SHRM, the most popular wellness benefits offered to employees are:

1. Wellness resources and information (72%)
2. Vaccinations on-site (67%)
3. CPR/first-aid training (55%)
4. 24-hour nurse line (50%)
5. Health fairs (44%)
6. Health screening programs (41%)
7. Smoking cessation programs (40%)
8. Wellness newsletter/column (40%)
9. Fitness center membership subsidy/reimbursement (36%)
10. Health and lifestyle coaching (33%)
11. Weight loss program (31%)

The list continues with items such as on-site fitness center (21%), nutritional counseling (20%), on-site fitness classes (15%), massage therapy services at work (14%) and so on all the way down to a company provided nap room (5%).

I was surprised to see the many programs that are available. Resources and volume of participation for such programs would be more limited in smaller companies, but there is clearly a wide variety of wellness options to consider that can be scaled for most any size organization.

Because of rising healthcare premiums and an aging workforce, wellness programs are a benefit whose time has come to attract new employees and improve the overall health and health-related lifestyle choices of current workers. Smoking, obesity, diabetes, pregnancy, high blood pressure and stress, are the most common areas where wellness programs can have a significant and measurable benefit to ROI and improved employee health.

So if given a choice, even during tough economic times, I would lean towards providing a subsidized gym membership over a $20 monthly gas card. The employee may want the $20 for gas but the gym membership will benefit them much more in improving their health and lifestyle for the long run. Because after all if you have your health, you have everything . . . right?


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