Benefits Basics for Employers: Understanding Wellness
While you may already have a good grasp of standard employee health benefits, you may not be familiar with “wellness.” When the term was first introduced, wellness was seen as a bit of a fad. Now, as organizations have seen the real value that comes from investing in employee wellness, it has become commonplace. It deserves some attention.
What Does Workplace “Wellness” Look Like?
Workplace wellness can take many forms. At its heart, the aim is to support and improve both the physical and mental health of employees. A good employee wellness program will include components to support both physical and mental wellness.
Supporting Physical Wellness
There are a lot of ways a company can support the physical wellbeing of employees. Here are a few examples:
- Provide employees with a Wellness Spending Account, where they can be reimbursed for money spent on gym memberships, running shoes, fitness classes and other activities
- Subsidize or pay for a membership to local fitness centres
- Sponsor yoga or fitness classes at the workplace; even a half-hour yoga session once a week will be appreciated and may nudge employees to more activities
- Provide healthy snacks or fruit/veggies, free of charge or at a reduced cost
- Run programs that challenge employees to eat healthily or walk a certain amount of steps per day
- Organize lunchtime or after-work walking or running clubs
- Sponsor preventative health screenings
- Provide stand-up desks as a workspace option
- Host flu vaccine clinics
Supporting Mental Wellness
Supporting the mental wellbeing of employees can require a more nuanced approach, but it’s vital for a comprehensive wellness strategy. Unfortunately, mental health concerns can create a stigma, and employers want to be careful to ensure privacy and support.
One of the best ways to support mental wellness is by providing a confidential Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP). Generally, an EFAP provides 24-hour access to counselling and support services to help employees deal with a variety of challenges. Usually, an EFAP offers online resources, face-to-face and telephone counselling. It can also provide tools and research services that help lighten the workload of day to day, non-work related challenges.
An EFAP can provide support for:
- Substance Abuse
- Smoking cessation
- Health challenges
- Everyday challenges, including locating daycare providers, researching family doctors that are accepting patients, and helping employees make a will
Why Include Wellness in Your Benefits Plan?
Employers have unique opportunities to ensure that their employees are getting the support they need to live healthy and happy lives. This might be reason enough to invest in a wellness program!
But wellness programs are good business, too. Helping employees reach and maintain better physical and mental health can have a significant impact on your claims experience. When employees are healthy they make fewer claims, which benefits your organization financially.
Think about prescription drug claims. These are often a large part of total extended health costs. Picture an employee who is overweight, inactive and on the verge of having to take medication for type 2 diabetes. This is a chronic illness that would require ongoing prescription drug medications. Now, the picture that the same employee getting involved in wellness initiatives through work, becoming more active and losing weight. Suddenly, weight loss and fitness may have eliminated the need for prescription drug medication!
Being physically active is also a great way to help reduce stress. Too much stress is bad for the body both physically and mentally. Both instances can require prescription medications (again, at the potential a cost to your benefits plan) or expensive paramedical services.
Plus, corporate employee wellness programs can increase productivity and decrease absences. Employees who are healthy perform better at work; when they come to work they are “present” and engaged, and they are absent less than those who are unhealthy.
Providing support for mental wellness is equally as important. Giving employees access to counselling and support can help them work through the mental and emotional aspects of life’s challenges. Stress and other mental challenges can have physical consequences on the body, leading to increased prescription drug use, absenteeism and lower productivity.
All of this translates into cost savings for your company. In many ways, including wellness in your extended health coverage is preventative medication. Its goal is to prevent employees from having to make claims on your plan and prevent employees from being absent or unproductive.
The flip side is, helping employees achieve better physical and mental health is the right thing to do. It shows you care, it increases employee satisfaction and it makes everyone feel better.
How much will an Employee Wellness Program Cost?
The cost of an employee wellness program is entirely dependent on the employer. Some wellness initiatives can be easy and inexpensive, while other initiatives may require a larger investment.
Start by looking at your budget, company culture and demographics. Next, identify some goals for your plan, and then get creative. Start small to ensure you can sustain the plan, and adjust it to make sure it is working for your employees. You don’t have to have a huge budget to make an employee wellness program a reality!
The Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) piece is easy – GroupHEALTH builds access to an EFAP into all our employee health benefit plans. We believe it is that important! Our group buying power lets us secure competitive rates and we’ve got great feedback on the EFAP we work with.
Good Advice is Key
Are you looking for help or advice on how to include wellness in your employee group health coverage? Review your options with one of our licensed advisors on the phone or in-person or contact us for a comparison quote.
Whether you’re looking for wellness advice, extended health and dental coverage, disability coverage, or life and critical illness coverage, GroupHEALTH has affordable benefits packages that work as hard as you do.