6 Ways to Build Better Employee Wellness Programs at Bargain Prices

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Workplace wellness programs are not a new trend, but they do seem to be growing in popularity. In fact, according to the results of a Virgin HealthMiles’ survey, “The Business of Healthy Employees: A Survey of Workplace Health Priorities,” 80.4% of the organizations surveyed are offering health and wellness programs to employees.

But there’s a catch. According to a similar survey performed by Deloitte, the larger the employer, the more likely it is to increase investment in employee health and wellness. While the reasons vary from organization to organization, they boil down to two simple things: time and money. Unlike employers with deep pockets and large staffs, smaller businesses just don’t have the resources to promote and support workplace wellness.

…Or do they?

As it turns out, workplace wellness might not be as costly in terms of time or money as you believe.

During my 20-plus years in this business, I have discovered many ways to develop and institute an effective worksite wellness program without a large investment of time or money. It’s all about getting creative with the resources in your area and finding alternatives to pricey initiatives. And, I’ve found that often the little things are just as effective as big, fancy program rollouts.

Best of all, “bargain” wellness programs don’t only save you money on the front end—they can help your bottom line in the future, too. In the February 2010 issue of Health Affairs, several wellness program studies were published, revealing that medical costs fell $3.27 for every $1 spent on wellness. Furthermore, absenteeism costs fell $2.73 for every $1 spent. That is a 6:1 ROI!

Harder to quantify, but with just as much impact, is the fact that your investment in your employees’ well-being will jump-start their morale, loyalty, and engagement—all of which is good news for their productivity and your bottom line.

Here, are six inexpensive—or free—workplace wellness ideas that work:

1. Ask your insurance carrier for support.

If you provide health insurance for your employees, you need to tap into the resources available from your carrier. Insurers are all about health and wellness these days. After all, it’s in their best interests to keep you happy and your employees healthy, because that translates into year-after-year renewals and low claim costs.

Don’t be afraid to ask for and take advantage of what’s available. At the very least, your insurer should be able to provide a health risk assessment, and beyond that, most will cover the cost of having a health fair with biometrics. The labs can run through the medical claims so that should not be an extra charge.

If your insurer isn’t willing to help with a health fair, or if you are a small employer who doesn’t offer insurance, health risk assessments are available free of charge online—and you can collate the information yourself. Another great source is Welcoa.org. The Wellness Council of America provides all kinds of free stuff for the asking.

2. Check with other vendors, too.

If you have an EAP vendor (Employee Assistance Program), this organization can and should assist with any behavioral health education or support. After all, that is what you pay them for!

In the same way, your worker’s compensation provider can do a worksite ergonomics assessment and instruct your employees about lifting and twisting properly to decrease injury on the job.

3. Partner up with local medical organizations.

Especially if you do not provide insurance, get in touch with local medical organizations and ask for assistance. Keep in mind that a health fair is nothing more than offering a health risk appraisal or questionnaire for your employees, some biometric testing (like blood pressure, height, and weight), and some free educational materials.

Specifically, I recommend asking your county medical society for the names of new docs who have recently joined. They will be building their practice and would be happy to spend some of their free time taking blood pressures and getting exposure to the community in hopes of attracting new patients. Your local hospital might even be interested in providing a glucose screening to increase exposure to their diabetes program.

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