Don’t Make this Common Mistake in Your Wellness Program

Author: Larry Chapman

A major mistake many worksite wellness practitioners make is using a narrow economic rationale for wellness programming. As I emphasized previously, communicating the impact of your wellness program in Return on Investment (ROI) terms is critical. However, I have seen many managers who set out to communicate the ROI of their efforts focus narrowly on health claims.

Rapid increases in health benefit cost have historically spurred investment in worksite wellness programs. Employers wanted to do anything they could that might slow the rates of growth in per employee health plan costs. This fueled some major expansion of our field. But this narrow economic perspective focused only on health benefit cost has its own problems. I think it makes us way too dependent on societal trends affecting health costs.

My read is that humanitarian reasons for doing wellness (“It’s the right thing to do!”) are not adequate to secure a long-term employer commitment to well-funded wellness programming.

My experience is that business cycles can be devastating to wellness efforts. It seems that many people in our field want to believe that enlightened humanitarianism should be what we rely on to secure long-term investment. To that my response is “fat chance”!

Without a tangible, sustainable and broad economic rationale for worksite wellness I believe we will ultimately be relegated to the dustbin of management history, as an innovation that lost its way in the early 21st century because though it felt good, it didn’t prove itself to impact the bottom line.

How can we protect wellness from capricious management fads and economic cycles?

We have to move to take a results-oriented approach to worksite wellness that focuses on health improvement and impact to five economic costs that all employers should care about.

The big five economic costs are:

  1. Health plan cost: We are all familiar with this one (though many are not familiar with all the tools wellness programs can use to affect these costs).
  2. Sick leave absenteeism costs: It’s not a good thing for people to be sick and it adversely affects all work organizations in a wide variety of ways. Workers don’t get much done for the business when they are home in bed!
  3. Workers’ compensation costs: Work related illness and injury are often a significant issue for employers, particularly by type of industry and occupation.
  4. Disability insurance costs: Prolonged absence from work is growing as our work force ages.
  5. Presenteeism costs: When we chose to be at work with an underlying health condition, like allergies, headaches, or colds, productivity suffers.

Best-practice wellness programs have a measureable impact on all these cost areas (if you want to learn how take our Wellness Certification).  Wellness practitioners who don’t measure and articulate their impact on these cost-drivers are like soldiers going into battle with only a few bullets in their guns!

I believe that we should be building a strong economic rationale for worksite wellness around these five economic variables and thereby help wellness to become as non-negotiable as any other mission-critical part of the organization—just like accounting, HR, or the legal department!

Getting to that point isn’t easy, but I believe that the benefits of making effective wellness truly ubiquitous are surely worth the hard work required to win over the hearts and minds of financially-driven decision-makers.

This article is published with permission from Larry Chapman, the Founder and CEO of the Chapman Institute. The Chapman Institute offers practical, experienced-based training and certification resources that promote professional development and establish a research-driven best practice standard for wellness practitioners.

Learn more about the planning, designing, implementing, managing and evaluating Worksite Wellness programs here.