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May 2009 return to the table of contents

Getting Wise to the Wellness ROI

With healthcare costs continuing to grow, some employers are showing a return on investment in wellness programming, particularly employers that offer an annual health-risk assessment and counseling.  Considering the potential gains, one expert in the field thinks it's a wonder more companies haven't given wellness programs a try.

Such company efforts “are definitely on the rise," but "it's surprising that wellness programming hasn't increased at a more significant pace," says Fiona Gathright, founder of Wellness Corporate Solutions, a firm specializing in  wellness programs for businesses. "We expect this will change dramatically in the coming year as a result of the economy," she says. "The more that companies realize the incredible benefits to production and savings in their workforce by seeing the results elsewhere in their industries, the faster they will begin to incorporate wellness as a standard.”

So just how noteworthy are the results for companies? Take obesity, for instance; Employees who are 30 to 60 pounds overweight average $917 more a year in medical and absenteeism costs than their healthy-weight counterparts. That number rises to $2,256 for employees who are 60 to 100 pounds overweight.

Teamwork counts in wellness programs, Gathright says.  "When a company fosters a culture within its workforce of healthier habits, the resulting benefits are seen much more quickly than when employees try to do these things on their own. Everyone in the mix of a company can get involved to some degree, and the resulting momentum is what has the real impact over time and can be seen in as little as one year on the books.”

Here's an example of the impact a companywide wellness program can have: One study showed that 55% of employees receiving coaching reduced their intake of saturated fat, compared with 40% of those who didn't get additional advice. Of those in coaching, 72% started eating more fruits and vegetables, and 17% increased their intake of cardio-friendly fish, compared with 35% and 8%, respectively, of the uncoached.

“The results of corporatewide wellness programs speak for themselves when it comes to increasing profitability” Gathright says. “If your workforce is at the doctor more than they could be or are constantly tired, their work performance is going to suffer, and the fact is, it will hit the company where it hurts the most.”


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