Wellness Programs

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Well-being and wellness programs are part of many HR policies and benefits programs. They promise not only to increase employee productivity and overall health, but also to drive down health insurance costs and reduce attendance problems.

Such programs can, in terms of sophistication, investment and scope, range from nothing more than important health information, e.g., a health checklist and basic brochure or simple weights and treadmill, up through comprehensive, high-end and integrated health services, online and/or onsite.

A health program can be defined by what an organization does not do, as much as by what it does, e.g., does not make artery-clogging, diabetes-inducing deep-fried junk-foods and corn syrup (fructose)-saturated beverages available in the workplace vending machines or cafeteria.

Just as individual health initiatives include wisely refraining from some things as well as prudently utilizing others, organizational health programs should address and eliminate negative influences on wellness in addition to highlighting health-promoting practices and resources.

Wellness programs are offered by many organizations in order to promote healthy lifestyles among employees. They can take many forms and range from the very basic to the very complex. With the rise in healthcare costs, employers have become more interested in promoting employee health through programs in order to prevent future medical and job-productivity costs that arise from poor health.

Executives should show concern for employees by planning for and funding programs within the organization. Human resources departments should carefully research programs that are available, negotiate contracts, and keep employees informed of the available resources through newsletter, posters, hand-outs, etc. Managers should make employees aware of the full range of wellness benefits that are available. Employees should consider how much money they would save and quality of life they would gain by participating in such programs.

Programs that promote employee wellness and prevent medical problems are effective in decreasing medical costs; this in turn increases the profitability of the organization as a whole. Healthy employees do not miss as much work, are more productive, and are less likely to have accidents. Next to pay, healthcare benefits are probably the most alluring aspect of a job; therefore, offering competitive benefits increases recruitment and retention.

There are many ways to promote healthy lifestyles within an organization. They include health brochures, programs for dependents, flexible schedules that allow for physical activity, gym memberships, health fairs, healthy food, medical screenings, newsletters, nurse lines, reimbursement for physicals, showers and locker rooms, workshops, activity encouragement (such as offering bike racks) and more.

One interesting current trend in wellness programs is the use of private social networks for employees. Providers such as ShapeUp create virtual networks for employees that offer goal setting and team management toward wellness goals. In very much the same way as the Nike+ Facebook App uses the user's social connections to provide inspiration for running, some modern corporate health programs draw upon other employees for encouragement and motivation.
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