March 6, 2017 What are the benefits of workplace wellness programs? Many companies throughout the U.S. implement workplace wellness programs, often with the help of an insurance provider, to promote healthy living and personal wellness. The goal of these programs is not only to help employees lead healthier lives, but also to reduce the cost of prolonged absences due to illness. Challenges arise when convincing employees to participate in these programs. Healthcare professionals should be familiar with these programs and the benefits they provide. While not all workplace wellness programs are structured in the same manner, most seek to curb rates of obesity and levels of stress by promoting positive behaviors at the office and at home. Read on to learn more about how these programs can help employees, how they might be improved and what challenges arise when seeking employee participation: Lower healthcare costs One key benefit of corporate wellness programs is that they can actually lower the cost of healthcare for participating employees. Forbes Magazine reported on a six-year study of PepsiCo employees which found that a program to manage chronic illness saved $3.78 for every dollar invested. That kind of return should encourage employers to start their own programs if they have not already. Reduced absenteeism, increased productivity The benefits of wellness programs extend beyond physical health. Companies with programs may also see fewer instances of absent workers as well as increased productivity and employee retention. Employee turnover can be a major drain on company resources, in terms of money, time and productive output. A study published in Seminars in Oncology Nursing noted that participating employees can become health advocates for their coworkers. By creating a culture of health, employees can encourage positive habits in their peers and improve the entire organization. Stress is a common problem for employees. Reduce stress An unbalanced work/life relationship can lead to high amounts of stress, which can have many negative consequences. As the Mayo Clinic noted, stress can even cause symptoms similar to those of illnesses. Physical symptoms can include headaches, insomnia, stomach pain and chest pain. Stress's effects on mental health can range from mood swings and outbursts to depression and lack of focus. According to NPR, many workplace wellness programs are centered on combating stress because doing so lowers healthcare costs and boosts productivity. Some companies even hire wellness coaches to visit the office and give advice about nutrition, ergonomics and habits. Some programs create specific, game-like challenges to encourage employees to drink more water, use the stairs more frequently or eat balanced meals. Building a culture of health In the business world, more and more organizations focus on creating a positive company culture. In many cases, HR staff members and managers work together to create an atmosphere of ownership, collaboration and encouragement. The goal of developing a tangible culture is to lower turnover rates and attract top talent. Wellness programs can fit snugly into an existing company culture and bolster its positive effects. When speaking with patients, physicians can encourage patients to look into their company's programs and participate. "When executives participate, employees are more likely to follow." Meghan Biro, writing in Forbes Magazine, reported that the effectiveness of these programs often depends on executives within the company. If employees see that upper management is participating, they'll be more likely to follow along. Engagement isn't something that happens all at once. The best wellness programs are implemented in ways that will keep showing up over time, reminding employees of their goals - and showing that the employer really cares about employee well-being. Challenges faced by wellness programs NPR's study of wellness programs found that only 40 percent of those surveyed actively participate in their employee sponsored health programs. Getting more employees to participate can be challenging for a number of reasons. For instance, Employee Benefits News reported that many employees feel that the benefits of wellness programs are too limited - they would like to see programs that can provide individual feedback and custom outcomes. Another reason for limited engagement is the "fun factor." If the program bores participants, chances are they won't participate for very long. By using games and interesting rewards, employees may feel more motivated to stick with the wellness program.