Wellness Programs at Work

You know the old saying: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” As a small business owner, how often do you take steps to keep you and your employees healthy? Maybe you find your employees get especially sick during flu season, or they run out of energy as the day goes on. Implementing wellness programs at work might help improve employee health.

A wellness program is sponsored by a business with the purpose of promoting employee health. Before you can establish a successful wellness program, you need to take a look at your options.

There are many health and wellness programs and incentives you can offer your employees. But, you need to make sure the program is effective and complies with federal rules for employee health programs.

Health and wellness programs

There are different types of health and wellness programs businesses can choose from. Take a look at some categories for health and wellness programs:

1. Screenings and assessments

Some businesses choose to focus on screenings (aka assessments that evaluate an individual’s health risks) in their wellness programs. A biometric screening can check things like blood pressure, cholesterol, height/weight, blood glucose levels, and body mass index.

Screenings can be paired with assessments. During an assessment, a qualified specialist asks employees health-related questions, like if/how often they exercise, smoke, drink, or get stressed.

If businesses decide to focus on screenings and assessments, there are a few different options. Some labs can come right to your business, or you can have your employees go to a registered lab or doctor’s office.

2. Lifestyle management

Lifestyle management is a way to help employees decrease their health risks. If you decide to focus on lifestyle management, you will be implementing a program that is based on things like diet, exercise, emotional well-being, and overall lifestyle improvements.

If you focus on lifestyle management, you might consider offering employees gym memberships, pedometers, and nutrition education.

3. Disease management

The last wellness program category is disease management, which is meant to support and help employees with chronic conditions, like diabetes and cancer.

A wellness program which focuses on disease management intends on educating and personalizing how employees handle their conditions. Employees will be given the tools and resources to help them deal with their symptoms, like clinical guidelines and interventions.

Combining programs

Combining programs is one way to have a successful wellness program that improves health and is geared to your employees. And, choosing your program is also based on what works best with your business.

You can integrate all three programs at your business, two programs, or one program. For example, you might want to focus on lifestyle management and disease management. You would implement education and tools for these programs, but limited screening procedures.

Wellness programs should not just benefit certain employees. To implement successful health and wellness programs, you need to make them applicable to all employees.

Employee incentives for wellness programs

One study found that businesses that don’t offer incentives to employees only have a median wellness program participation rate of 20%. If you want employees to participate in your wellness programs at work, offering incentives is a wise idea.

The incentives you offer your employees vary. And, the frequency in which you offer the incentives can vary. Here are some common incentive options for your employees to meet their health and wellness program goals:

1. Extra paid time off

Offering extra paid time off (PTO) to employees for participating in your business’s wellness program and meeting their goals is a great incentive.

For example, you might have a wellness program set up where your employees need to reach a certain number of steps every day. You could reward one extra day of PTO for every four months they meet the goal. That way, you offer each employee the opportunity to earn three extra paid personal days per year.

The loss in productivity can add up your expenses. Make sure you are able to afford giving your employees paid time off before offering this incentive option.

2. Health plan premium/cost sharing discounts

Discounting employees’ health plan premiums or cost sharing responsibilities is a great way to increase participation rates. Although it’s an expensive option, this incentive directly correlates with the wellness program.

For example, you could decrease an employee’s cost sharing contribution if they quit smoking for six consecutive months.

3. Cash, gift cards, and merchandise

Incentives with immediate monetary value are also good to offer employees participating in wellness programs at work. Cash, gift cards, and merchandise could help motivate employees to participate.

You can also decide to enter the names of the employees who meet their goals in a raffle for merchandise, gift cards, or cash. That way, you can limit the amount you need to spend and still offer a great incentive for participation.

For example, if employees meet their goals for three consecutive months, you can give them a $25 gift card or put their name in a raffle.

4. Recognition events

You could also host a recognition event in honor of the employees’ hard work in the wellness program. A recognition event doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg.

For example, you can host a recognition event once every few months, two times a year, or even once a year for your employees. Invite all employees and recognize their hard work in the wellness program.

How to make wellness programs at work effective

To make employer wellness programs effective, you should reflect the program in the company’s policies. It’s also important that employees see they are not alone in participating. Make sure you also participate in the wellness program.

If you do not let employees know that there is a wellness program, no one will participate. Your company wellness program is a great example of what to include in an employee handbook. And, check in with your employees to see if they have questions or concerns about the program.

By successfully choosing a wellness program and corresponding incentives, you will be on your way to a healthy business.

Why wellness programs at work are important

According to one study, 81% of large businesses (over 200 employees) and 49% of small businesses offered wellness programs in 2015. Businesses recognize the importance of incorporating healthy living into the workplace.

Take a look at some reasons why you should start thinking about company wellness programs:

Wellness Programs at Work

1. Less absenteeism

If you think wellness programs at work will cost you more than what you get out of them, you might need to reconsider.

When General Electric set up a successful wellness program, they reported a 45% decrease in absenteeism. With less employees missing work, businesses are able to function at normal performance levels. Though GE is a big corporation, this could also help small businesses with reducing absenteeism in the workplace.

2. Reduce health care costs

The RAND Wellness Programs Study affirms that wellness programs lead to a reduction in employer health care costs. According to this study, wellness programs that have a lifestyle management component and a disease management component save employers money. The employers saved about $30 per employee each month due to the wellness program.

3. Higher productivity

You might notice that your employees don’t get as much work done in the afternoons as the workday is coming to an end.

NASA found that the productivity of employees who do not exercise decreased by 50% during the last two hours of each workday. Oppositely, employees who exercise regularly did not decrease their productivity at all.

Implementing employee health programs helps motivate workers to exercise, which in turn benefits your business. If exercise helps to increase productivity in the workplace, more employees will be productive throughout the whole workday.

4. Show employees you value their health

Employees spend a good portion of their week at your small business. Implementing a wellness program could show them that you appreciate their work ethic and want to ensure you foster a healthy work environment.

Workplace wellness programs rules

If you decide to implement a wellness program at work, be mindful of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) rules. The rules aim to prevent discrimination or unlawful use of employee medical information while promoting employee health.

Under the EEOC, wellness programs cannot violate Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Take a look at these rules before you set up a wellness program:

1. No misuse of medical information

If an employer institutes a voluntary wellness program, they can ask health-related questions and conduct medical examinations.

However, both ADA and GINA say that you cannot obtain and use information about an employee or their family members’ health conditions.

2. ADA’s up to 30% rule

You can only offer employees up to 30% incentive discount on the total cost of self-only coverage if your wellness program is part of a group health plan.

3. GINA’s up to 30% rule

Under the GINA rule, 30% is also the maximum incentive amount that can go toward a spouse’s self-only coverage.

4. General incentive rule

Though incentives help motivate employees, the EEOC weighs in on some restrictions. The incentives you offer employees cannot be in exchange for information on the employee’s children’s health status.

You also cannot give incentives for an employee to tell you specified genetic information about themselves, their spouses, or their children. One example of specified genetic information is family medical history.

5. Confidentiality

Make sure the information you collect from your employees is confidential. Do not share the information, and make sure your employees understand all the terms and conditions of the wellness program.

You are required to give employees a notice containing the following information about the wellness program:

  • What information will be collected
  • Whom the information will be shared with and why
  • Limits on disclosure
  • How you intend to keep information confidential

After providing employees this notice, they must give you their consent for participation. For more information, visit the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website.

This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.

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