We’ve all done it. You wake up, and somehow overnight, every bone in your body is aching and you know the flu has struck again. The idea of mustering up the energy to actually up, get dressed, and go into work seems impossible. You opt to use a sick day and if you’re lucky, it’s a slow day so that upon returning you won’t be too far behind.
Unfortunately, as luck always seems to have it, people tend to get sick at the most inopportune times, which places excess stress on yourself and the workplace. Businesses have begun to feel the crunch and are taking action by implementing wellness programs. Employees may want to get used to wellness programs too, because health care reform may provoke a great deal of companies to start offering them. Health care reform advocates recognize the many benefits of wellness programs and the Affordable Care Act is working to increase incentives and program value. The rules support “participatory wellness programs” and set standards for “health contingent wellness programs.” These normally offer incentives to employees who meet a certain standard of health, but the ACA says they have to be reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease as well as allow alternative means of qualification for those who may not meet normal health standards. The ACA also allows greater rewards under health-contingent programs, raising health care coverage from 20% to 30% for eligible businesses.
Wellness programs were becoming popular far before health care reform though, offered at many companies because — let’s face it — Americans have increasingly far less time to maintain our health. We’re known for “working all the time,” and my European friends are always shocked to hear about our work habits and the differences in time off provided by employers. Of course, not everyone can become an ex-patriot and run off to some European country, and employees and employers alike know something has to be done to keep everyone happy. When companies become an active participant in an employee’s health, both parties benefit. Wellness programs aren’t a vaccination or don’t give employees immunity to the things that are just a part of life, like getting the flu. People will always get ill from time to time, and sometimes things just happen. However, you’re likely to get sick less because now you actually have time to take care of yourself, companies see increased productivity and fewer absent workers, and the resulting increased performance you subsequently experience could be your ticket to a raise or great opportunity. Instead of viewing wellness programs as a sneaky way to get people to stop smoking so that there are fewer smoke breaks being taken on the clock, consider the benefits of wellness programs. Here are just five of the reasons you want to work for a company with a wellness program.
1. Lower Health Care Costs
When the cost of health care is low, employees and business owners are happy. This is achieved through a healthier workforce but wellness programs only work when people participate. One method of ensuring participation and lowering overall health care costs are incentive-based programs that encourage physical activity. In fact, a 2002 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study found that “fitness programs can reduce employer health care costs by 20% to 55%.” If your employer saves money, so do you.
2. Better Focus
As the economy took a downturn, we all took on extra responsibility. When someone was laid off, many assumed the responsibility without extra pay. That takes a toll mentally and physically and employers are realizing that wellness programs aren’t just about doing daily jumping jacks. In a survey conducted by the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses Inc. (AAOHN), 85% of participants believed that stress management was a priority for wellness programs. Stress is inevitable, but if you find a healthy way to deal with it, you can avoid physical health problems. Maybe it’s yoga or meditation, and for some people it’s jogging, but combating mental stress is the first step to avoiding physical ailments.
3. Company Love
We all want to work for someone who has our best interest at heart. This is what makes a happy employee and a successful workplace, which leads to multiple benefits for you. Contrary to popular belief, many offices have employees that are content and if you look around, it’s likely most of them are healthy and active. It’s quite possible that they participate in a wellness program.
4. Fewer Sick Days
All companies structure your sick days in a different way. Some ask that you earn them, other companies automatically provide them, but if you don’t use them, many businesses allow you to roll them over, use them as extra vacation time, or pay you for unused days. When you realize that preventable illness makes up 70% of health care costs, think about all the sick days you could have avoided had your company implemented a wellness program. Many programs offer educational material on how to avoid sicknesses and stop the virus carousel that seems to run around the office with the change of seasons. They also offer personal consultations that can help you pinpoint improvement areas and work with you on implementing solid strategies. Participation is always voluntary but when you realize the benefits of solid health, it’s like putting money in your pocket.
5. Improved Personal Life
You may scoff at the idea of your workplace improving your personal life, but you’d be surprised how far the benefits of a workplace program can reach. It doesn’t matter what your motivation is for getting healthy. If your office offers money, that’s great! If they pay for your gym membership, take it! The additional benefits you’re going to receive from making healthy choices will be with you for life. These include weight reduction, increased stamina, lowered levels of stress, a sense of well-being, and higher self-esteem.
There are some that don’t believe wellness programs are effective, but how your employer approaches the program will be what dictates how each person benefits. If the program is a one-size-fits-all assessment that touts empty messages of physical activity and healthy eating, most employees that are actually awake at work will see through a haphazard effort. You want to participate in a program that involves all levels of management and offers various forms of recognition and incentives. We’ve all heard of the “group mentality” and while it’s a very good thing to forge your own path, sometimes we all need a little help. Wellness programs are voluntary, and opting to be a part of a support system can be the very push you need to make better choices — for yourself and for your future.
Follow Desiree on Twitter @DesireeBaughman.