Why Your Office Health and Wellness Programs Fail

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FitnessOffice health and wellness programs matter. Every dollar spent on workplace wellness programs can reduce health care costs for employers by $3.27, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (CDC). Health-related absenteeism also costs the economy $84 billion in lost productivity every year. The CDC reports that “a modest reduction in avoidable risk factors could lead to a gain of more than $1 trillion annually in labor supply and efficiency by 2023.”

So, why doesn’t every employer have an awesome health and wellness program? And why do so many health and wellness programs fail to deliver any appreciable return on investment, like PepsiCo’s did last year ?

Reason No. 1: A Lack of Resources

Jane Wang, CEO of employee health company myHealthSphere, thinks she knows why. “I think most employers believe that [health and wellness programs are important] in principle, but in reality, there’s not a lot of resources given to them,” she says. “The reason for that is because there are things that are more pressing, such as profit or productivity. We know that employers don’t use [wellness programs] because they don’t see direct ROI from them.”

Time and time again, however, successful health and wellness programs do show ROI. Wang says that most employers don’t see the ROI because it’s often not immediate. For example, employers may not realize their gains in productivity are coming from lowered absenteeism rates. They may attribute the gains to other initiatives, new processes, or talented employees.

Reason No. 2: Health and Wellness Doesn’t Fit Into Employees’ Schedules

According to Nicholas Raditsis, business solutions specialist at myHealthSphere, a lot of health and wellness programs fail because they simply aren’t practical. Many health and wellness programs encourage employees to do things like go for a run or hit the gym. These suggestions aren’t exactly tailored to employees’ lifestyles and obligations.

“We’ve noticed through our user feedback that that doesn’t really fit in with someone’s normal workflow, especially in highly sedentary, highly stressful industries like law, finance, or IT, where people can’t really get away from their desks,” Raditsis says.

Raditsis says this is why myHealthSphere’s new workplaces wellness tool, Dooo, delivers “contextually specific content.”

What we focus on is helping employers help their employees to build healthy habits directly at work through contextually specific content: quick activities between 30 seconds and 2 minutes that people can do right at their desks throughout the day,” Raditsis explains. Dooo aims to “augment employee workflow, rather than disrupt it.”

Reason No. 3: HR Just Doesn’t Have Time

Some HR departments don’t put resources into health and wellness programs because they fail to see the value of them, but other HR departments would love to introduce health and wellness programs — if only they had the time to. With talent acquisition, onboarding, continued training, and conflict resolution all vying for a given HR rep’s time, health and wellness programs get put on hold.

What these HR departments need is a simple and efficient program that almost runs itself, Wang says. She and Raditsis believe Dooo is just such a program.

“To manage [Dooo], they really need fifteen minutes per month, and we guide them every step of the way, so it’s a really low-admin and high-impact program,” Wang says. “Our value proposition to admins and HR at any firm is the fact that we can free them up to do what they should be doing more strategically, which is more about talent search and retention of talent and keeping their star players on the field longer.”

Speaking of retention, Raditsis believes that lower turnover is yet another benefit of properly implemented health and wellness programs.

“Employers are realizing now that their competitive advantage is really in their people,” Raditsis says. “HR especially is now focusing on health as a strategy to … retain new employees by saying, ‘Hey, we’re a company that cares about our employees’ health and we take care of them.’”

Are programs like Dooo the answer to employers’ health and wellness woes? They very well may be. But one thing is clear: a well-run health and wellness program boosts productivity, retains talent, and lowers health care costs. If your program is failing — or worse, you don’t have one — you’ll want to address that immediately.

By Matthew Kosinski