As you establish your priorities for the coming year, make sure that employee wellness figures high on the list. In this month’s Harvard Business Review, co-authors Leonard Berry, Ann Mirabito, and William Baun make the case that wellness programs are a strategic imperative, offering concrete evidence that investments in wellness yield tangible results.
The authors examine a few long-term programs and the impact on the bottom line and beyond:

  • Johnson & Johnson’s comprehensive and strategic investment in their employees’ social, mental, and physical health has cumulatively saved the company $250 million in health care costs over the past decade; from 2002 to 2008, the return was $2.71 for every dollar spent.
  • In a study of 185 workers and their spouses who participated in cardiac rehabilitation and exercise training, 57% of those classified as high risk were converted to low-risk in the six-month program. Medical claim costs declined by $1,421 per participant, and every dollar invested in the intervention yielded $6 in health care savings.
  • Six years after pulling its workers comp & injury care unit into its wellness program, MD Anderson Cancer Center saw lost work days decline by 80% and modified-duty days by 64%; workers comp premium dropped by 50%.
  • A study by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health shows that organizations with highly effective wellness programs report significantly lower voluntary attrition than do those whose programs have low effectiveness (9% vs. 15%).

In light of these results and the availability of tax incentives and grants stemming from healthcare reform legislation, the authors make the case that it’s a good time for employers to take a serious look at their in-house programs. But successful programs demand a corporate cultural shift, requiring more than token and superficial nods to wellness.
6 critical success factors
The authors studied ten employers with successful programs and identified 6 pillars for success, each of which they discuss in detail, offering concrete actions taken by various employers. Here’s the summary, but the discussions of each are well worth a read:

  • Pillar 1: Multileval leadership – top-tier commitment
  • Pillar 2: Alignment – cultural integration
  • Pillar 3: Scope, relevance, and quality – addressing the whole person
  • Pillar 4: Accessibility – convenience matters
  • Pillar 5: Partnerships – leveraging available resources
  • Pillar 6: Communications – overcoming apathy and demographic challenges

We’re happy to see further evidence of things that we’ve observed across hundreds of employers: investment in the health and well-being of your employees pays off. And we would particularly echo the observations in Pillar 3 that, “Wellness isn’t just about physical fitness. Depression and stress, in particular, have proved to be major sources of lost productivity.” The psychological and emotional health of an employee is inextricably linked to physical wellness.


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