When I first read Jessie Sholl’s 2012 article titled The Profits Of A Healthy Workplace, I was totally impressed. After all, there actually are companies out there that have gotten smart regarding the hiring and retention of healthy workers. They are also smart because they encourage health and wellness among their existing employees, which makes for a far happier and more responsible workforce. Let’s look at what made Sholl’s article so encouraging.
He spotlighted the dream of 33-year-old Jim Goodnight that started in the mid-1970s—starting a technology company that would treat its employees as the company’s most valuable asset. Goodnight had a dream of providing quality health benefits to his employees and creating a work environment that included racquetball and volleyball courts, eating areas that would provide healthy, low-cost meals, and a clinic that would provide medical and psychological services at no cost to employees (Sholl, 2012). In addition, Goodnight wanted flexible work schedules, an onsite daycare, and continuing education classes—all of which are the visions of a quintessential idealist. Costly, yes, but Goodnight’s dream didn’t just become a reality in 1976 with the founding of SAS (Statistical Analysis Systems) in North Carolina, it is now the world’s largest privately held software company that creates business analytics software with an annual revenue of $2.3 billion (Sholl, 2012).
Because of Goodnight’s vision regarding health and wellness, the employee turnover rate at SAS is under 4 percent, which Sholl says is 80 percent below the standard for the industry; a savings of approximately $70 million annually in hiring and training new employees. Further, while SAS employees have unlimited sick days, they take about two per year and the onsite healthcare facility, which does cost a pretty penny for the company, still saves on productivity cost losses because appointments are free. As Sholl noted, employees are more willing to see a doctor at the outset of a problem rather than waiting until it becomes serious and more expensive business; and they don’t have to take time off from working driving to and from a doctor’s office where wait times are often long and unbearable (2012). Annual savings for SAS is around $6.6 billion.
Corporate wellness is now in vogue because it’s about more than quitting smoking or getting an annual physical. It’s become a corporate mindset that encourages companies to be concerned about the total well-being of their workers. Berry, Maribito & Baun (2010) noted in a Harvard Business Review article titled What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs? that when MD Anderson Cancer Center formed a workers’ compensation and injury care division in 2001 in the employee health and well-being department—complete with a physician and a nurse case manager—lost work days were reduced by 80 percent within six years and modified-duty days were lowered by 64 percent. This saved a total of $1.5 million and premiums for workers’ compensation were reduced by 50 percent (Berry, Maribito & Baun, 2010).
True wellness includes mental, physical, financial and spiritual health, but some employees will deal with getting help for stress but not take advice regarding healthy eating, which means helping people as they are to get them where they must go (Berry, Maribito & Baun, 2010). Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think Inc., a corporate strategy company, believes that a good physical health and wellness program starts with first improving the happiness level of each employee (Berry, Maribito
& Baun, 2010). Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work (Crown Business, 2010), contends that if employees adopt a positive mindset first they will adopt and stick with a healthy-eating plan; and their emotional outlook also makes them more productive. Underscoring this assertion was a study published in the February 2010 issue of Health Affairs which “found that for every dollar invested in a comprehensive workplace wellness program, companies saved $3.27 in medical costs and $2.73 in costs related to absenteeism” (Sholl, 2012). In fact, when Goodnight founded SAS, “a robust program for supporting employee health, happiness and well-being was considered a luxury. Today it is increasingly considered a strategic imperative” (Sholl, 2012).
For example, Whole Foods Market is known for treating all their employees well and those who work more than 30 hours per week get healthcare benefits for a little as $10 per paycheck. Their Team Member Emergency Program provides employees with financial help and co-workers can even donate to the cause of an employee who needs help. The company’s Total Health Immersion program allows chosen participants to travel at no cost to different locations for three, five or 10 days of an intensive healthy-eating education and healthy-lifestyle experiences (Whole Foods, 2010).
Finally, the successful wellness program employed by Hypertherm, a Hanover, N.H. metal systems manufacturer, includes financial incentives and feedback. Employees receive $10 cash rewards/incentives each pay period ($260 per year) if they are involved in biometric health screenings that monitor their blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood glucose, and weight/Body Mass Index. By 2011, the rate of participation in the program went from 11 to 79 percent (Sholl, 2012). The company also works with the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to provide clinic services and health coaching at the company.
It’s really up to the corporate leaders to set the tone for optimal wellness at any company. Like Jim Goodnight who had a dream of creating a healthy workplace with healthy and happy employees, corporate leaders must realize that employees might appear to be dispensable and replaceable, but they are still people who want the best environment in which to work, and the best health and wellness to make that dream come true for them as well. If they are replaced, they will likely be replaced with equally unhealthy people which keeps the vicious cycle alive and well—and no one benefits as costs for companies that function in this matter continue to rise.
Berry, L.L. , Maribito, A.M. & Baun, W.B. (2010). What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs? Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2010/12/whats-the-hard-return-on-employee-wellness-programs
Sholl, J. (2012). The Profits Of A Healthy Workplace. Retrieved from https://experiencelife.com/article/the-profits-of-a-healthy-workplace/
Whole Foods. (2014). Full Spoon by Whole Foods Market® brings wellness to the workplace. Retrieved from http://media.wholefoodsmarket.com/news/full-spoon