Worksite Wellness: Monadnock’s Economic Advantage?

Categories: Income and Jobs, Workplace Wellness

More than half of U.S. employers offer worksite wellness initiatives that include everything from blood pressure screenings and smoking cessation programs to healthy vending machines, standing desks and physical activity breaks.

Some companies have even gone so far as to build full-fledged campus fitness centers — Yale-New Haven Hospital, for example has built a 13,000 square foot exercise center with equipment and group fitness classes. Some even offer cash to encourage healthy habits — IBM, for example, offers a $300 compensation to employees who engage in exercising, healthy eating, not smoking and filling out a health risk questionnaire.

And it’s no wonder: health insurance premiums are spiraling out of control and employers are desperate to do something about it.

But are these programs helping create healthier employees? And further, could this be an economic advantage for the Monadnock Region?

Monadnock Region companies on board

Closer to home, 125 companies have become Healthy Monadnock 2020 Organizational Champions and 30 of those businesses and organizations are actively working on wellness initiatives in the hopes that employees become healthier, happier and more productive. Bottom line: Healthier employees require less healthcare — a factor that helps keep premiums down.  

Improving worksite environments to make it easier for people to eat better, move more, be tobacco-free, and manage stress are tangible benefits that result in overall improvements in health outcomes. Employees show lower absenteeism, increased morale, increased engagement, increased productivity, increased safety, increased job satisfaction, increased talent retention rates and a finally, a decrease in healthcare costs.

For example, the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce has a policy that ensures that healthy foods and beverages are provided at any meeting or event that offers food; Home Healthcare, Hospice and Community Services encourages walking meetings; Monadnock Family Services has instituted a policy that prohibits tobacco from being used on its property; Cheshire County’s offices now have a breastfeeding room for employees; Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene provides free flu shots for employees; and Hamshaw Lumber provides physical activity breaks for its employees.

These efforts are paying off not only for workplaces, but for the community at large, says Linda Rubin, director of the Healthiest Community Initiative, Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth Hitchcock-Keene.

“Many of these Organizational Champions are seeing the benefits of worksite wellness,” says Rubin. Healthy workplaces spill over to healthy households and healthier homes spill over to create a healthier community, she notes. “This initiative creates a robust workforce in our region.”

Businesses see benefits

A Harvard University study found that a well-designed wellness program can expect to yield a return on investment in healthcare cost reductions of about 3:1; the study also found that for each dollar spent on wellness programs, $2.73 is saved on absence and related costs after about three years. Other research has shown that benefits to organizations can include increased productivity, less absenteeism, stress reduction, improved communication among employees and better employee retention.

“The impact has been extremely positive,” says Cheryl Belair, owner of The Insurance Source in Keene, of her Organizational Champion initiatives at her business which include blood screenings, dance party breaks and more. “It is important for everyone to ‘know their numbers’ … by our second screening our numbers looked much better because we were making a conscious effort to improve them,” she says.

At Hamshaw Lumber in Keene, its Organizational Champion initiatives have been well-received by employees, says Doug Hamshaw, owner.

“It continues to surprise me when we quietly do things to promote health, how well it is received,” adds Barbara Leatherman, controller at Hamshaw Lumber. For example, the business offers “fresh fruit Friday” to its staff. The business owners purchase two different types of fruit, one familiar and a second that is more exotic. “We now have staff asking about the fruit ahead of time and before the end of the day the fruit is always gone and appreciated,” says Leatherman.

Jen Begley, worksite wellness program manager at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth Hitchcock-Keene says that while measuring ROI is difficult, other measurements have shown that its employee wellness program has had a strong influence on changing behaviors and creating a culture of health within the organization; the hospital plans to start measuring the results of its initiatives on an individual and organization-wide level.

How to start a worksite wellness program

Creating and implementing a wellness program need not be expensive, notes Belair.

“None of the initiatives we have started have been major budget items,” she says.  “I believe most organizations can implement small changes one at a time, without a large investment, and still see positive outcomes.”

This is especially true of organizations that pursue sustainable changes, such as tobacco-free policies and flex-time policies.

Other small changes can include replacing chips and candy at meetings with fresh fruits and vegetables, or simply offering on-site flu shots or starting an employee walking club at lunchtime. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that worksites focus on implementing policies, systems, and environmental changes in three health areas: tobacco, physical activity, and healthy eating.

A good wellness program does, however, require expert planning. Luckily for our region, if a business or organization is interested, it can join Healthy Monadnock as a Champion at no cost.

One of the benefits of becoming an Organizational Champion is the guidance Healthy Monadnock can provide in creating an inexpensive worksite wellness program tailored to a particular business or organization, notes Rubin.

“We help advance an organization’s worksite wellness efforts, and provide the resources and technical assistance to implements successful activities that support employees’ health,” says Rubin.

Learn more about becoming an Organizational Champion: kmclaughlin@cheshire-med.com.