The Evolution of Worksite Wellness Programs

Posted by Frank Jakka, CWP, CPT, Director, Health & Productivity on February 12, 2018 at 10:00 AM

What we have learned and where we are going next

Worksite wellness programs are not a new concept. After all, Hershey Foods built a rec center with a swimming pool for employees in the 1930s. But the goal of these programs and the coinciding way of measuring their value has changed over the years. With each generation of employees, employers have reassessed and refined their programs. Looking back on the evolution gives us a better idea of what works and what doesn’t and suggests best practices for moving into the future.

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The Early 1900s – The Beginnings of the Wellness Industry

Before the information age, work was much more physical in nature. Stronger, more physically fit employees could work faster, more efficiently, and longer. Employers realized this and in the early 1900’s, the National Cash Register built an employee gym and instituted twice-daily exercise breaks. In 1911, they added a 325-acre recreation park for its workers.  The goal was clear. Keep the employees physically strong to match the demands of often physical work.

1950 to 1990 – Focus on Overall Health & Safety

Employers in the 50s continued to recognize the value of physically fit employees. Progressive firms like Texas Instruments and Xerox instituted fitness programs. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) were also established during this time. First created to help employees with alcohol addiction, EAP grew to address other work-life issues. In 1970, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) was established with an emphasis on preventing accidents and illness. Both EAP and OSHA were aimed at improving productivity and reducing costs.

1980 to 1990 – Development of ROI Measures

In the 1980s and 90s, employers sought to realize reduced health care risks and the associated costs. Wellness programs at work focused on specific health habits such as smoking cessation, nutrition, stress reduction, and weight management. With an increased monetary investment in these programs, employers sought evidence of their effectiveness and the wellness industry took up the cause. However, quantifying a hard dollar return on investment brought challenges such as limited available data, and the ability to follow study subjects over the long-term, along with other restrictions impacting sound research.

A New Century – A Prevention Model

The 2000’s experienced another transformation, with a primary focus on prevention and proactive risk identification. Many worksite wellness programs began incorporating and encouraging employees to complete preventive screenings and vaccinations, as well as fostering relationships with their physicians as a means to get in front of potential health concerns.

2017 – The Value of Wellness on Workplace Culture

Today, we see further evolution of worksite wellness programs with an understanding that these programs can play a significant role in employee engagement and setting the tone for company culture. A 2017 survey from Virgin Pulse showed that 85% of employers offer wellness programs. The survey also suggested a move toward a more holistic approach, with an emphasis on employee engagement and workplace culture. This move is the latest trend in the wellness industry, coinciding with greater understanding of the role of the workplace in employee lives.

Further, studies show that millennials are heavily interested in their personal employee experience at a prospective employer, underscoring the importance of worksite wellness programs in the areas of recruitment and retention. Accordingly, the measure of success for these programs has shifted toward a value on investment (VOI), measured through employee feedback, attrition, absenteeism, presenteeism and cultural impact.

To learn more about integrating VOI into your wellness program or to receive a complimentary consultation, please contact MMA’s Health & Productivity consultants.

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Topics: Wellness

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