A health promotion program—sometimes known as a wellness program—is a type of employee benefit that encompasses the various efforts companies make to promote and maintain their employees’ health. Examples of health promotion programs might include companysponsored smoking cessation training, visits with a nutritionist to receive information about healthy cooking, discounted fitness center memberships, or free cholesterol testing.
Offering health promotion programs to employees provides small businesses with a number of potential benefits. For example, they may decrease their health care costs, increase worker productivity, reduce absenteeism, and encourage employee loyalty. In addition to improving their general health, work-based health promotion programs also make employees feel that the company is concerned about their welfare, which tends to increase their job satisfaction. “Keeping your workers healthy year-round is a great way to decrease absenteeism and improve morale,” Ellen Paris wrote in an article for Entrepreneur. “Free cancer screenings, educational seminars, and flu shots may not sound like fun perks, but employees appreciate them.”
Health promotion programs have increased in popularity in recent years. A study by the consulting firm Hewitt Associates reported in HR Focus found that 93 percent of American large companies—those with 200 or more employees—offered some sort of health promotion program, an increase of 7 percent since 1995. Among the most popular wellness programs or elements within programs were educational workshops and seminars, a smoke-free workplace, counseling on lifestyle habits that contribute to chronic conditions, screenings for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and flu shots. The Hewitt study revealed that 72 percent of U.S. companies offer education and training as part of their wellness programs, while 27 percent offer health risk appraisals to promote early detection of treatable conditions. About 40 percent of employers offer some sort of incentive for employees who participate in company-sponsored health programs.
The cost of health promotion programs is relatively low, given the potential savings small businesses might realize in reduced health care costs. Flu shots cost about $20 per employee, according to Paris, while cholesterol screening costs about $5 per employee. Many basic wellness services are available through the employer outreach programs of local hospitals and visiting nurse associations. Another option for companies is to provide employees with access to health information on the Internet. “We are also finding that employers are increasingly using online technology to deliver health education incentives,” health care consultant Camille Haltom told Bill Leonard in HR Magazine. “Online technology provides convenient access for participants, can potentially increase participation in health management, and is costeffective for employers when compared with traditional approaches.”
Introducing a health promotion program can be an extremely daunting undertaking because its success usually requires meaningful changes in attitudes and behaviors. Changing behaviors and attitudes can be extremely difficult, as anyone knows who has undertaken to break a bad habit. Behaviors related to health risk factors are often among the most challenging to modify, because they are very basic lifestyle activities like eating, sleeping, exercising, and smoking. Since people do not easily change their habits without good reason, a successful health promotion program should include some sort of incentive. Incentives may take the form of desirable rewards or undesirable consequences. For the most part, employers implementing health promotion programs find the use of desirable incentives more conducive to establishing a program that projects a positive image.
Inspiring others to change their behavior takes persistence, patience, and time. The benefits to be gained by a company from a health promotion program may not manifest themselves quickly. So, assessments of the success of such a program should be measured only after sufficient time has elapsed. A healthier workforce is a goal that most business owners will agree is desirable, even if it takes time to achieve.