Employee wellness programs have often been viewed as a nice extra, not a strategic imperative. But the data demonstrate otherwise.
According to a team of researchers led by Leonard L. Berry of Texas A&M University, Ann M. Mirabito of Baylor University and William B. Baun of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the return on investment on comprehensive, well-run employee wellness programs is impressive — sometimes as high as six to one.
The findings are compiled in a comprehensive piece in the December issue of Harvard Business Review titled "What's the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs?" The subhead reads, "The ROI data will surprise you, and the softer evidence may inspire you."
To achieve those kinds of results, employers cannot merely offer workers a few passes to a fitness center and nutrition information in the cafeteria, the team reports.
The most successful wellness programs are supported by six essential pillars:
- engaged leadership at multiple levels
- strategic alignment with the company's identity and aspirations
- a design that is broad in scope and high in relevance and quality
- broad accessibility
- internal and external partnerships
- effective communications
The team studied 10 organizations that have financially sound workplace wellness programs. They conducted interviews with senior executives, managers of health-related functions and focus groups of middle managers and employees — in all, about 300 people.
The team found companies in a variety of industries — including Johnson & Johnson, Lowe's, H-E-B and Healthwise — have built their employee wellness programs on all six pillars and have reaped big rewards in the form of lower costs, greater productivity and higher morale. Those benefits are not easy to achieve, and verifiable paybacks are never a certainty, but the track record inspires emulation, especially when the numbers are studied, the report states.