It’s no secret that the standard corporate environment is not one that screams “healthy and thriving.” High stress from deadlines, poor posture and lymphatic functioning from prolonged sitting, and a lack of sunshine from being stationed in a cubicle come to mind. Some big companies recognize this downfall, both to their employees’ well-being, and to their respective bottom lines. Healthy employees take less days off, are more productive, spend less money on health care and stay with the company for longer.
This report sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services covered a statistical analysis, case studies, a national survey of employers and a literature review, finding significant benefits for employee well-being with implementation of wellness programs. This study shows the financial impact that wellness programs can have – up to $3.27 reduction in medical costs per dollar spent, and $2.73 reduction in absenteeism costs per dollar spent.
However, as this study shows, the program has to be properly designed to be effective – only 60 percent of programs were found to be successful. A good program includes a variety of important things, such as participation from senior management, accurate diagnostics and metrics, incentives and support resources. Among the top programs, there are a few factors that appear to be common across the board. These include on-site gyms, financial incentives, healthy food options in the cafeteria and wellness workshops/classes.
A handful of companies stand out from the pack in terms of money spent and creativity in ensuring the well-being of their employees.
IBM includes incentives of up to $300 per employee per year for completing its programs. They have 12-week programs in diet, exercise, family health and personal vitality. For each one completed, the employee gets $150, for up to two programs per year. They’ve long been a leader in workplace wellness, decreasing health care costs by $190 million between 2005-2007.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Group created Virgin Pulse, an organization that conducts research into optimal employee wellness practices and puts them into action with their corporate clients. They claim to be relentlessly data-driven, realizing that health is about having focus, energy and drive – in addition to being free from ailments. They’re also one of the masterminds behind Employee Wellbeing Month.
Kaiser Permanente implemented Instant Recess, an initiative that pushes employees to stop throughout the day for 10-minute breaks of stretching and light movements/exercises. As we know, sitting too much can have serious short- and long-term detrimental effects.
General Electric has implemented NowClinic, a program that allows employees to Skype with a physician at any time to get simple diagnoses. This instant access to care can relieve a lot of stress and tension about potential ailments.
Bay Area-based Genentech offers physical therapy, guided meditations and a farmers market where employees can get local organic produce. For employees that are often on the move, they also provide business health travel kits.
And finally, although General Mills isn’t known for the healthiest food offerings, the company has spent considerable effort to improve workplace wellness, installing meditation rooms in each building at its headquarters, and incorporating its FUSE (Flexible User Shared Environment) initiative, a space without walls where employees can move around to different areas freely. This type of environment that encourages creativity is often seen in startups, but is a huge step forward for the generally conservative mindset of corporations.
With about 57 million “white collar workers” in the U.S. in 2013, office environments and lifestyles must undergo drastic changes if we have any hope of improving the country’s health. We applaud those companies that are making the changes and hope that the effects cascade.