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Six Ways To Institute An Affordable Workplace Wellness Program



by Dr. Carmella Sebastian, author of “Sex and Spaghetti Sauce: My Italian Mother’s Recipe for Getting Healthy and Getting Busy in Your 50s and Beyond

Workplace wellness programs are very popular right now. In fact, according to the 2012 Deloitte Survey of U.S. Employers, 62 percent planned to increase wellness and preventive health programs. But there’s a catch: The larger the employer is, the more likely they’ll 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? 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 just as impactful, 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 and 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.

4. Approach specialized groups for specialized help.

It may be the case that your organization is facing specific challenges. For instance, perhaps a significant percentage of your employees smoke or are overweight. Go after this low-hanging fruit by partnering with groups who specialize in addressing those issues. Often, their help can make a difference at little to no cost.

Talk to organizations like the American Lung Association for smoking cessation programs, the American Diabetes Association, or your state’s smoking quitline. They all offer free educational material you can use. Some will even come into your workplace and provide a lunch-and-learn program. Likewise, if you have 15 people to participate, Weight Watchers will come to your office and do a lunch program, too.

5. Rethink incentives.

We all know that people tend to participate most enthusiastically in any type of program when they’re working toward a reward. But if you’re like many small business leaders, you probably assume that incentives are only for big organizations, and that you’ll have to forgo them. After all, you just don’t have the budget to provide lavish perks.

Hold on — incentives for ‘good behavior’ do not have to be huge TVs or trips abroad. I have seen people do remarkable things for a water bottle, t-shirt, or a special parking spot. Provide incentives that are health-focused if at all possible, like three free visits to a local gym or a healthy lunch on the company.

6. “Committee up” for good health.

In some circles the word “committee” has a dubious reputation. But when it comes to staffing wellness programs in small companies, sharing the wealth by creating a wellness committee is the way to go. It is much better for a group of 10 to share responsibility for implementation, instead of dumping the entire task on one employee who already has a full plate.

Make one person in charge of the health fair. One can seek out educational material and programming. Another can make calls to get freebies for the incentives. Let each committee member choose which jobs he or she would prefer. A person who is tech-savvy may volunteer to do the fliers and promotional material, for instance… and she will probably do it in half the time of someone like me!

Finally, once your ‘bargain’ workplace wellness initiatives start to pay off, there’s one thing you shouldn’t skimp on: celebration! Whenever you achieve a goal, make a big deal about the achievement in order to maintain and increase morale. Recognize and publicly congratulate employees who pass milestones. Over time, you’ll create an affordable culture of wellness that’s good for your entire organization.


Dr Carmella Sebastian

Dr. Carmella Sebastian is a nationally known wellness educator with a special interest in women at mid-life and women’s wellness. She frequently speaks on a range of wellness topics and is admired for giving her audiences practical, achievable wellness strategies and solutions (all of which are served with a liberal dose of humor!). She recently published her first book, “Sex and Spaghetti Sauce: My Italian Mother’s Recipe for Getting Healthy and Getting Busy in Your 50s and Beyond“.