A few months ago we wrote about a provocative study that questioned whether job-based wellness programs really paid off—and if so when, and for whom. If a business pays for wellness and prevention in 2008, would any of the workers still be on that payroll when the health-savings accrued years in the future (assuming that the investment did pay off in better health and lower costs?)
It's going to take more than one more study to answer that question, but new research from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina does provide some encouraging results. According to a report in the Raleigh News and Observer, companies willing to make even modest investments in wellness initiatives—such as health screenings in the workplace or giving workers paid time off for doctor's visits—saw a healthy return (pun intended) within a few years.
"The things that employees value the most aren't always the things that cost a lot of money, and in fact, it can be just the opposite," Don Bradley, chief medical officer for Blue Cross told the newspaper. "You don't have to build a gym, but just give the opportunity to get outside and do some exercise."
The study found that companies offering comprehensive wellness programs see a 25 percent to 30 percent decrease in medical and absenteeism costs in about 3.6 years. Tthat's a lot more attractive way for businesses to save money than shifting more costs onto their workers.
In North Carolina, 70 percent of employers offer at least three workplace wellness programs, the newspaper reported. Four percent offer none. The study found:
- The average return on investment for employers is $3.14 per $1 spent on employee wellness.
- The four most commonly offered workplace wellness programs are smoke-free workplace, paid time off for doctor's visits or health care needs, on-site health screenings and health fairs.
- The four programs with the highest participation rates: paid time off for doctor's visits or health care needs, healthy cafe or vending options, health fairs and physical activity during work hours.