I have a confession to make. I used to think that corporate wellness programs were ridiculous. I’d hear about weight watchers programs and health fairs and, frankly, it felt like the typical busywork kind of stuff HR departments are known for. Then, I went to work for an organization that invests heavily in wellness and has for 15 years and I found out that I was wrong.
As I’ve studied wellness and the impact that well executed wellness programs can have on an organization, I’ve changed my tune. I have become a wellness champion. I believe in wellness programs within organizations and I think that every organization should be investing in it. It seems so obvious to me that there is benefit to having a wellness program that it’s hard to understand why companies wouldn’t embrace them, particularly in today’s world of health care expenses that continue to spiral out of control.
The general argument against corporate wellness is that companies have no business mandating anything to do with employee health. It is argued that requiring employees to get in better shape or care for their general health and well being better is an intrusion of their privacy. I’ve this coming from some pretty smart HR pros and I find this objection to wellness to be silly and short-sighted. The fact is, we mandate things to employees every day. We tell them how to dress. We give them standards for their hygeine. We require them to attend training classes. We give expectations on how to execute their job. We tell when they can and can’t take personal phone calls. We tell them what they can and can’t say to who and when. And we do all of this because the specific behaviors that employees chose relative to these issues has direct financial impact on the organization.
But, when it comes to wellness, we get squeamish about setting the same kind of standards despite the fact that employer paid health insurance benefits has become the second largest expense line item for many companies behind salary. And the research tells us that 75% of healthcare expenses in America come from chronic diseases that are largely preventable through behavior modification. So, to extrapolate, it can be assumed also that approximately 75% of our health insurance expense at the organization level is being caused by the behaviors of our employees and that if they changed these behaviors, there could be a dramatic decrease in healthcare expenses for the employee and the organization. This doesn’t even take into consideration that people are doing real damage to themselves and their families through these unhealthy choices.
With this much at stake, why wouldn’t a responsible organization get invested in wellness? It almost feels like an imperative to create healthy organizations that proactively help employees make healthier decisions. In fact, if we are willing to dictate how employees dress when their’s so little at stake, why wouldn’t we dictate what they eat or how much they exercise when there’s so much at stake?