Many organizations try to improve their healthcare costs by implementing wellness programs, but they would probably get a bigger bang for their buck if they focused more on holistic employee well-being instead. Well-being programs can reduce a variety of costs to an organization’s bottom line in addition to healthcare costs, which can be difficult to lower directly through specific wellness programs.

What Is a Well-Being Program?

First, it’s important to understand exactly what a well-being program is. Today, the body of knowledge regarding wellness has evolved to encompass broader concepts including the health of the whole person in addition to their physical health. This integrated well-being approach typically includes several components:

  1. Physical health: enhancing one’s physical fitness
  2. Mental and emotional health: resources to balance one’s self, situations, and others
  3. Financial health: tools to attain financial freedom and success
  4. Spiritual health: defined as one’s strong sense of self or purpose through beliefs, principles, values, and ethical judgments

For organizations to design and implement well-being programs that address all of these categories, two things need to happen. First, companies need to thoroughly understand the costs and cost savings associated with each of these areas. Second, companies must make active campaigns of communication, training, and education in each of these areas available to the entire organization.

Costs and Cost Savings

In terms of physical health, the major issue is healthcare costs. Well-being programs can potentially save money by promoting employee health and lowering healthcare costs as a result. These savings are one metric by which to measure well-being program success, and they are often signaled by reductions in aggregate medical claims or the use of certain provider treatment services. Over time, participation in biometric screenings (e.g., weight, cholesterol, glucose, and blood pressure testing) and programs geared toward improving those biometric results (e.g., weight loss and exercise challenges, healthy eating, etc.) can affect healthcare costs.

Stress levels have reached epidemic proportions in today’s workforce and can cost organizations in terms of presenteeism, absenteeism, lowered productivity, and physical and emotional problems. In terms of mental and emotional health, organizations can look at aggregate data from healthcare and employee assistance program (EAP) providers as well as absenteeism rates to determine associated costs. Programs such as yoga classes, onsite massages, and flexible work schedules – plus encouraging the use of vacation days – can help to alleviate some of the stress employees feel.

ExploreFinances are another potential stressor that a holistic well-being program should single out. This particular stressor really became a widespread issue during the recession of 2009, when many employees were losing their homes, drowning in debt, and facing the possibility of bankruptcy. This financial stress led to productivity losses and increased presenteeism and absenteeism. To mitigate financial stress, a well-being program can offer debt management and budgeting services, as well as more traditional financial planning and education.

When it comes to spiritual health – that is, how employees interact with coworkers and leaders and their sense of purpose within the organization – productivity and engagement are potential cost factors. To foster spiritual health, create a sense of purpose among employees. Unify them behind the organization’s purpose by highlighting how each employee’s work contributes to overall company success. Also be sure to provide employees with opportunities for growth, to create clear and transparent goals for each employee, and to encourage mutual respect between leaders and employees.

Active Communication Plans

Organizations have found that by focusing well-being programs within the areas mentioned above and by explicitly communicating their programs under the well-being umbrella, they can better help employees understand the value of holistic health.

However, communication alone will not create the cost savings organizations are looking for. Training and education of both leaders and employees is vital for success. Leaders must be savvy about the issues employees are dealing with, and they need the freedom and authority to help employees through available programs and initiatives. Employees, meanwhile, need to feel there is an open-door policy in place. That is, they should feel comfortable asking for the help they need, and leaders should be sure to follow through when employees come to them with issues.

Holistic well-being programs pay off for organizations in several ways. Not only do these programs promote employee engagement and satisfaction, but they also bring concrete results to the bottom line.

Rose Stanley is a senior practice leader and serves as a spokesperson and ambassador for WorldatWork.

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