Eighty-six percent of executives say improving employee health is their top reason for implementing a workplace wellness program. It's not new information that eating well and regular activity is critical to good health, and when employees are in good health they perform better. In fact most companies now realize that employee health has direct implications on core business priorities like productivity, absenteeism, talent retention and profitability.

1. Productivity

  • A study in Population Health Management, a leading industry journal, stated employees with an unhealthy diet were 66 percent more likely to experience a loss in productivity than those who regularly ate whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep employees energized with healthy options to stimulate people to do better work in less time, increasing efficiency.
  • Building a culture of health also builds a culture of teamwork and fosters new relationships that lead to collaboration and creativity.

2. Absenteeism

  • Healthier employees mean fewer paid days off because of illness.

o Another interesting fact from the recent Humana study: Employees who did not participate in their companies' wellness program had 56.3 percent higher unscheduled absences or sick days.

  • Good wellness programs include dependents and spouses, resulting in fewer days off caring for sick family members and trips to the doctor.
  • Health insurers can help employers bring medical services to employees, rather than employees leaving work to get care.

Through a health insurer, employers can offer workers on site flu vaccinations at little or no cost. o Insurers can bring in medical professionals specializing in preventative care to promote routine health measures. o Insurers are helping even small to midsize employers implement on-site health clinics. These can be cost-effective for employers with as few as 300 employees.

3. Reputation

  • Health plans with powerful wellness tools show leadership cares for the well-being of their people, helping create a more favorable view toward a company/ positive reputation among employees, prospective employees and the community as a whole.
  • The best insurers offer solid techniques for executives to play a leadership role in their wellness program--enhancing internal and external executive positioning.

4.Health Claims Cost

  • By far, the number one driver of health care costs in the U.S. is unhealthy lifestyles. Obesity, stress, lack of daily activity, tobacco use, alcohol consumption and myriad other daily choices are driving ever increasing use of doctors, hospitals and pharmaceuticals...and therefore increasing costs.
  • The only way to effectively change cost trends is to change lifestyles. Insurers are creating a host of new options for employers to implement effective, measurable wellness programs that target long-term lifestyle change. (ie: health apps that help gather data, programs that help track and analyze data, etc.)
  • A 2014 study by Humana conducted on its own employees revealed:

Employees engaged in wellness programs saw 60 percent lower health claims costs than unengaged employees with lifestyle-related chronic conditions o Unengaged employees average $53 more per month spent on health care claims than members who are engaged

5. Inter-office Relationship Building

  • Exercise and healthy eating with a group helps keep people accountable. But companies that provide food options need to adjust their options to help their employees succeed.

Eliminate junk food at company meetings/happy hours o Provide healthy snack options like fruit in the workplace

  • Set up interoffice competition to further inspire employees to take healthy measures while also building relationships among colleagues
  • Promote teamwork outside the work environment, ultimately helping to improve collaboration in the office, increasing productivity

6. Creativity and Brain Stimulation

  • The National Institute for Play has conducted multiple studies stating that 'playing' engages the creative side of the brain. When someone is 'playing', they lose some of their psychological barriers and stop stifling or editing their thoughts. This allows creative ideas to flow more freely. When companies promote play, it stimulates a more lighthearted, creative and productive atmosphere.
  • Many insurance programs offer tips and guidance on activities that companies can bring in to their offices to establish a creative, yet work-friendly environment for employees to stretch their legs--and their brains--allowing them to take more creative risks.

7. Engagement

  • Employee engagement has been a hot topic among HR leaders in recent years. As the millennial workplace population grows, it is becoming hard to attract, engage and retain them. A Gallup study compared engagement scores and found that those with low engagement scores averaged 31--51 percent more employee turnover.
  • Many insurance companies can help implement programs/activities that help:

Partner with a local charity for a community service project that includes physical activity o Intermural team sports o Free fitness classes during a lunch hour or before/after work

  • A recent Economist Intelligence Unit study found that 30 percent of employees rate subsidized gym memberships, on site health and wellness facilities, and budgeted wellness activity time during business hours, as the three most important services that would motivate participation in a workplace wellness program.
  • In a recent study by Optum, 84 percent of employees believed that workplace health and wellness programs showed that an employer cared about its employees.

Some recent partnerships in the insurance industry illustrate that some forward thinking insurers are responding by becoming health partners and providing tools to help companies get their employees and families healthier.

An interesting outcome of insurers evolving into health and wellness companies focused on impacting employee lifestyles, and thus employer bottom lines, is the emergence of unique partnerships between players in the health care and wellness worlds. Just last month, Humana and Weight Watchers partnered to provide employer-based Humana members with free and discounted Weight Watchers membership as an integrated part of their health plan. "We want to help employers find effective ways to battle obesity, improve the overall wellness of their employees and create healthy communities," said Beth Bierbower, President of Humana's Employer Group Segment. "Partnering with Weight Watchers makes sense allowing us to connect our members with a leading weight loss program so that they can better navigate their wellness journeys."

This is smart business but more importantly anything we can do to help our employees eat healthier and be healthier makes sense to me. What is your insurance provider doing to help make your employees healthier? It might be time for you to ask for more and evaluate your companies options.

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Additional resources:

3"Q12 Meta-Analysis" Gallup Inc.

4 "Measuring wellness: From data to insights," Conducted by Humana Inc. and the Economist Intelligence Unit