Employee Wellness Programs: Should Your Business Have One?

The employee wellness program is one of the fastest-growing trends in workplace benefits. Approximately 70% of U.S. employers now provide some sort of wellness program for employees, and 8% plan to add one within a year, according to a June 2015 report by the Society For Human Resource Management.

Some research shows these programs can benefit employees and companies. Still, privacy and other concerns give some companies pause. Here are some things to consider before you jump on the wellness bandwagon.

The benefits of employee wellness programs

Wellness programs are designed to help employees improve their health. Companies that implement these programs hope the health benefits will translate to lower costs and higher productivity for the business. 

According to a recent article in Columbus CEO, many companies are seeing these effects. Healthier employees mean fewer major health insurance claims. And a reduction of even a few claims can save companies a lot of money.

Wellness programs also make employees feel supported, leading to a happier, more productive workforce with lower rates of costly turnover. As Christopher Haverlock, YMCA of Central Ohio Corporate Wellness Director, told Columbus CEO, “When companies care about well-being, employees are more likely to produce higher quality work and are less likely to get sick, change jobs, or be injured while at work." What's more, a company with a strong wellness program could be more attractive to top talent.

CIO predicts that 2016 will be a year of change for employee wellness programs. Typical initiatives like walking, running and weight loss challenges will continue to play a part – but companies will also increase their focus on mental well-being, sleep health and wellness-tracking technologies. For example, Heather Kennedy, director of customer success at Fitbit Corporate Wellness, says that more and more companies are subsidizing trackers for employees – and their partners.

Concerns about employee wellness programs

Fitness trackers have been controversial, however, as have other aspects of wellness programs.

The data collected by the trackers gives rise to privacy concerns. According to CIO, many employees fear that a company's knowledge of their daily activity could cause their health insurance premiums to increase, or influence whether or not they move up the company ladder. Others fear that their private medical information could be stolen if a company's systems are hacked, according to The New York Times.

Companies also need to be careful about pressuring employees to participate in wellness programs. As the Times reports, it’s illegal for wellness programs to be compulsory, yet many employees feel required to sign up.

The Affordable Care Act did make it easier for companies to offer wellness-based incentives, but when a company requests workers' mental and physical health information, employees often feel that providing it is not optional. According to the Times, it is vital for companies to make sure that employees are completely aware of what they are signing up for. They should also know exactly what information is being collected and if and how it is being protected.

You may find that your employees appreciate the wellness program you offer, and it may even help save you money in the long run. Just be careful to thoroughly protect your employees’ private health data – and design a program with privacy in mind.