Conventional wisdom: Health insurance is plenty, thank you
On the contrary: Health insurance is just the beginning
With the rising cost of health care, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, every corporation in America is jumping on the employee wellness bandwagon. It's not a bad place to be--anyone with an ounce of common sense understands that unhealthy employees hurt a company's bottom line. The problem is that most wellness programs are nothing more than lip service, passive-aggressive attempts to control employee behavior and not serious attempts to simplify getting, and staying, healthy.
Put Your Money Where Your Ass Is
In 2013, when Big Ass Fans moved from a warehouse building into our first custom-built headquarters, we set aside space for an on-site health clinic and lunchroom called the Cantina (think Star Wars minus the Wookiees). Subsidized healthful lunches and free appointments with our nurse-practitioner are now the cornerstone of our Live Life Big Ass employee wellness program.
It's not that we don't hit all the traditional (and less expensive) hallmarks of corporate wellness, but we also put our money where our mouths (or, should I say, asses) are. On average, less than five percent of employees take advantage of monthly free fitness outings or use our discounted gym memberships, but more than two-thirds of our team uses the clinic and Cantina on a regular basis. That's because they save money and time.
Many Happy Returns
As a businessman and entrepreneur, I understand that money matters. The best thing about both the Cantina and clinic is that they offer the company an immediate ROI. Seeing an in-house nurse-practitioner, instead of leaving the office for a doctor's appointment, saves Big Ass Fans at least 100 hours per month in missed work time. That number doesn't even factor in the impact better health has on absentee rates, not to mention on our health insurance premiums.
The Cantina also provides the obvious benefit of keeping employees in the building. Lunches out, especially on the manufacturing side of town, mean a choice between a McDonald's drive-thru or barely slipping in on time from the Mexican restaurant two exits down the road. A Cantina lunch is a quick walk downstairs, a table with your colleagues, a way to meet or meet up with people outside your work pod, and either an extra half-hour to relax and recharge, or perhaps 30 minutes of ping-pong against a rival department. Whether they're eating, exercising or socializing, making it easy for employees to lunch where they work saves money, reduces stress and helps grow the company.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Long-term health benefits of the in-house clinic are harder to quantify, but that doesn't make them any less valuable. Research shows that 86 percent of all health care costs are a result of chronic conditions. People who wouldn't set foot inside a yoga class or step on the scales for a weight loss challenge come to see the nurse practitioner for a sore throat or a sprained ankle, and end up coming back to have their blood pressure monitored or their glucose tested on a regular basis. The feedback is clear: Going to see our company nurse, whom you know and see in the Cantina, instead of going to an outside doctor, makes the process less intimidating, less complicated and less expensive.
The company takes the same if-you-build-it, they-will-come approach to our healthy subsidized meals. Some days you can find a burger or lasagna oozing with cheese in the Cantina--we haven't taken an abstinence-only approach to nutrition management--but on an average day, more than half of our employees eat a salad, even when presented with yummier choices. While we can't trace that back directly to an ROI, it's easy to imagine that if our employees ate fast food every day, many more than half would not be eating salad.
While the rest of the country, and the corporate community, bicker about the lowest common denominator in employee wellness, employers can take small steps toward encouraging employee wellness that can pay big dividends. If you're an employer, get to work on taking care of the people who run your business; it's the smartest financial move you're probably ignoring.