Wellness programs have become an important component of employee education and health care benefits among for-profit and nonprofit organizations nationwide. The reason is clear: improving the well-being of an organization and its employees is a win-win proposition.

Employee well-being, measured by “people metrics” such as quality of life, energy levels, mood, level of happiness, and job safety, benefits employees personally. It also has a positive impact on “business metrics” such as absenteeism, presenteeism (working while sick), productivity, recruitment, and retention – all of which affect organizational performance.

Likewise, organizational health influences employee health. If an employee is trying to integrate more movement into his or her day and lose weight, he or she is going to be much more successful if the employer encourages movement breaks and supplies healthy snack alternatives.

A recent study from the University of California-Riverside, “Doing Well by Making Well: The Impact of Corporate Wellness Programs on Employee Productivity,” finds that corporate wellness programs can save companies money by reducing absenteeism and health insurance costs. Researchers also quantified an additional benefit to the bottom line: higher productivity from all participating employees. The improvement is dramatic – “approximately equal to an additional productive workday per month for the average worker.”

Elements of a successful program
The most successful wellness programs have a clear mission or vision, strong leadership support, and ongoing communication strategies.

Other best practices include active wellness teams and skill-based activities that touch on the four components of health: physical, social, emotional and financial. Programs that are fun and foster social connections help increase job satisfaction, and happier employees are more productive employees.

Individualized health coaching and meaningful incentives are also considered best practices.

Wellness programs can improve health and help to reduce an organization’s health care costs. To do so, however, the programs must meet the key criteria above, and overall participation must be high.

The Florida-based wellness vendor U.S. Preventive Medicine reduced the incidence of asthma, cardiac events, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, and diabetes among its customers, according to a February 2016 article in STAT News.

“The numbers add up and [disease] events definitely declined,” said Al Lewis, founder of Quizzify, which helps employees make better health decisions.

He said U.S. Preventive Medicine put together all of the best practices, including individualized health coaching and high employee participation.

MIIA’s approach
MIIA’s Wellness program follows best practices such as promoting both organizational and individual well-being, and includes programs that focus on the four components of health. The wellness staff works closely with member leaders to advise them on strategies they can use to enhance a wellness culture at their worksite.

MIIA’s programs are also varied to meet a range of employee needs. They include onsite, online and mobile opportunities.

Retirement planning and budgeting have been popular programs, as are health literacy, health care consumerism and mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to reduce accidents, increase happiness and concentration, and reduce tension and stress.

MIIA Wellness partners with MIIA Risk Management to bring “tailgate” trainings to departments of public works. Workshops cover topics such as “Cold Weather Safety,” “Driver Fatigue,” “Snow Plow Driver Wellness,” “Preventing Back Injuries,” and “Summer Safety.” One participant stated, “[T]raining sessions [such] as a health and wellness piece for our town/DPW employees is such an asset, both to myself as a safety coordinator, but more importantly to all of our employees that reap the benefits.”

Other programs that have the potential to improve health include healthy eating workshops, self-care and stress reduction programs, better sleep workshops, and a wide variety of exercise programs such as boot camp, yoga, Zumba, Fitbit walking challenges and more.

In the end, the goal of any wellness program should be to provide the skills participants need to make long-term behavior changes.

Cities or towns that haven’t yet implemented wellness programs are encouraged to talk to their insurance provider to see what is available and what incentives are offered. Management support for wellness programs, and the creation of a wellness committee, will encourage more employees to participate. Your staff, constituents and budget will all thank you for coming on board.

Wendy Gammons is MIIA’s Wellness/Health Promotion Manager.