The Disadvantages of Wellness Plans
While the benefits of wellness programs often far outweigh their costs for large companies, small-business owners might find them more challenging to justify based on the initial investment, staff time to make the program viable and potential liabilities. Understanding the costs and benefits of implementing an employee wellness program can help you choose initiatives that make sense for a business of your size.
Depending on what wellness options you offer, you will have a variety of startup costs. In addition to staff time, you might need to equip a fitness center, provide healthy snacks, offer cash payouts for decreased use of paid time off and prizes for weight loss or other fitness contests, print materials that communicate your program, hire educational speakers, offer free cholesterol screenings and blood pressure testing, or send workers to substance counseling sessions or smoking cessation programs. A worker who smokes costs the average business approximately $1,300 more in annual health care costs compared with nonsmoking employees, according to the Mayo Clinic, so reducing smoking can have a long-term payoff for you if you can afford the upfront counseling costs.
A comprehensive wellness program can require a significant initial cash outlay for a small business, which it will have to carry before it sees a return on its investment. You will need to devote staff time to researching your wellness options, creating the program, developing a communications plan, purchasing educational materials and equipment or hiring experts to assist you, managing the program once it's implemented and then tracking the results. It might be best to start wellness efforts by contacting your insurance provider and asking if it has any preventive or wellness programs it offers. Many benefits providers offer wellness programs because the more you reduce employee illnesses and injuries, the less your insurer will have to pay in claims.
Encouraging your employees to change their diets, exercise habits or other life patterns and providing them with advice, counseling and/or the tools to get healthy opens you to legal liabilities. Employees who become injured exercising or ill after participating in company-sponsored wellness programs might successfully demonstrate that you pressured them into their activities or that your experts caused them to become ill or injured. Check with your lawyer to determine what wellness programs you should offer, how you should communicate your plans and what type of liability waivers you can have your employees sign as they voluntarily participate in your program.
The key benefit for a business that offers an employee wellness program is to reduce the negative affects poor worker health has on the company’s bottom line. If you have never run a wellness program before, you will need to correctly track and estimate the financial benefits you get from instituting your program, which can be difficult if you don’t know what you’re doing. Set methods for tracking changes in tardiness, absenteeism, workplace injury, productivity increases and reduced health care costs. In addition to tracking hard numbers, discuss with department heads any subjective observations they have about your wellness program. For example, try to track how much more productive new mothers are after taking advantage of pre- and postnatal counseling and lactation support. You might see, anecdotally, they are spending less time on the phone with baby sitters and doctors and leaving work to tend to sick children compared with female workers who did not participate in company-sponsored wellness activities before and after childbirth.