Wellness programs

Workplace wellness is any workplace health promotion activity or organizational policy designed to support healthy behavior in the workplace and to improve health outcomes. Known as ‘corporate wellbeing’ outside the US, workplace wellness often comprises activities such as health education, medical screenings, weight management programs, on-site fitness programs or facilities. These programs can be classified as primary, secondary, or tertiary health programs, depending on the goal of the specific program. Primary prevention programs usually target a fairly healthy employee population, and encourage them to more frequently engage in health behaviors that will encourage ongoing good health. Example of primary prevention programs include stress management, and exercise and healthy eating promotion. Secondary prevention programs are targeted at reducing behavior that is considered a risk factor for poor health. Examples of such programs include smoking cessation programs and screenings for high blood pressure or other cardiovascular disease related risk factors. Tertiary health programs address existing health problems, and aim to help control or reduce symptoms, or to help slow the progression of a disease or condition. Such programs might encourage employees to better adhere to specific medication or self-managed care guidelines. Workplace wellness programs can be categorized as primary, secondary, or tertiary prevention efforts, or an employer can implement programs that have elements of multiple types of prevention.

The lifestyles of people in the workforce are important both for the sake of their own health and for the sake of their employer’s productivity. Companies often subsidize these programs in the hope that they will save companies money in the long run by improving health, morale and productivity, although there is some controversy about evidence for the levels of return on investment. The controversy is rooted in a large and growing body of evidence proving that much of what has been claimed as outcomes has been fabricated, whereas in fact the industry’s practices violate clinical guidelines and can and do harm employees. This evidence specifically refers to workplace screenings and crash-dieting contests.

Non-controversial examples of workplace wellness organizational policies include allowing flex-time for exercise, providing on-site kitchen and eating areas, offering healthy food options in vending machines, holding “walk and talk” meetings, and offering financial and other incentives for participation. In recent years, workplace wellness has been expanded from single health promotion interventions to create a more overall healthy environment including, for example standards of building and interior design to promote physical activity. This expansion is largely been in part to creating greater access and leadership support from leaders in the participating companies.

The following information comes from the Kaiser Family Foundation Summary of Findings from 2016 in order to provide current information about employer-sponsored health benefits, the Kaiser Family Foundation (Kaiser) and the Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET) conduct an annual survey of private and nonfederal public employers with three or more workers.

Many employers offer wellness or health promotion programs to help employees improve their health and avoid unhealthy behaviors. Both small and large firms offer a program in at least one of these areas: smoking cessation; weight management; behavioral or lifestyle coaching. 46% of small firms and 83% of large firms offer these. 3% percent of small firms and 16% of large firms reported collecting health information from employees through wearable devices like a Fitbit or Apple Watch. 42% of large firms with one of these health and wellness programs offered employees a financial incentive to participate in or complete the program. Among most large firms with an incentive for completing wellness programs, incentives include: lower premium contributions or cost sharing (34% of firms); cash, contributions to health-related savings accounts, or merchandise (76% of firms); some other type of incentive (14% of firms). Some firms separate financial incentives for different programs and some others have incentives that require participation in more than one type of program (e.g., completing an assessment and participating in a health promotion activity).

There are various types of Wellness Programs offered in firms. Biometric screening programs can help identify cardiovascular risk factors in clients. Larger firms or businesses tend to facilitate more incidences of biometric screening programs. This can be in part to the amount of leadership support that is encouraged by company leaders and then received by employees.

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