Creating a Wellness Program

Findings from 56 studies on worksite wellness programs that were published in the American Journal of Health Promotion showed an average 27 percent reduction in sick leave absenteeism, 26 percent reduction in health care costs, and 32 percent reduction in workers’ compensation and disability management cost claims. The University of Michigan Health Management Research Center (HMRC) estimates that an organization saves $350 annually when a low-risk employee remains low risk and $153 when a high-risk employee’s health risks are reduced.

If like most small companies your business’s worksite wellness program budget is small, it’s essential that you are spending what you do have as efficiently as possible. The most common tool for assessing where health programs are most needed is a Health Risk Appraisal (HRA). This type of questionnaire reviews personal lifestyle practices (such as smoking, seat belt use, and exercise) and identifies risk factors. It can help you get an idea of what needs your program should address. An HRA is often available at no extra cost from your insurance company or from an outside vendor at low cost.

Be sure that you are following Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) regulations while conducting an HRA. If you have fewer than 50 employees, for instance, HIPPA regulations prohibit you from receiving an aggregate report of HRA results. You can either turn to an outside vendor to interpret HRA results or get creative. Garry Lindsay, who is an author of the Workplace Health Prevention Survey and the director of business partnerships for Partnership for Prevention, says one option is to pool your company’s employees with the employees of other similar companies when conducting an HRA. For instance, companies who share an office park could share a report.

Another option is to conduct an interest survey, where you list every initiative you are willing to offer as part of your wellness program and have employees rank what they would find most valuable. For some this may include nutrition education and for others a walking group or aerobics over the noon hour. Without establishing what is valuable to your staff, a wellness program might not be of value to the core users who need the help most.

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