Employee wellness programs: fad or genuine ROI?

by 22 Aug 2012

Employee wellness programs: fad or genuine ROI?Sickies, low productivity, workflow interruptions … the indirect costs of poor employee health are many and varied, and it’s the employer that cops it. In the fight to bolster engagement and reduce absenteeism, the latest initiative being used by employers is to increase their ‘corporate wellness’.

A recent national health survey revealed that around a third of working-age Australians has at least one of eight selected chronic diseases – including coronary heart disease, depression, diabetes and osteoporosis – and the annual cost to employers of high absenteeism and poor employee health exceeds $34bn.

Medibank Health Solutions and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found the adoption of workplace wellness programs in Australia has been low compared to other countries, and that this low adoption rate may in part account for above-average absenteeism. However, employers are increasingly seeing the business case for optimising the physical, psychological and social health of their employees.

Among the organisations that currently offer a corporate wellness program (1,500 corporate and government employers Australia-wide), two main motivations exist.

  1. WHS: While it has traditionally been focused on minimising the risk of physical hazards to health and safety in a workplace, this is changing to incorporate broader psycho-social considerations and hence wellness.
  2. General human capital drivers, including attracting and retaining talent, promoting engagement, and supporting ideas of broader corporate social responsibility, as well as more direct goals such as improving productivity and reducing absenteeism.

But do employees actually want wellness initiatives at work? The answer is a resounding yes. A 2011 National Workplace Health Index found that health initiatives at work are important to employees:

  • 79.5% of respondents said they would rather be employed by an organisation that provides healthy living programs and/or support.  Of these, 29.9% said they would definitely make an employer “one of choice” if they offered these programs
  • 87.2% of respondents declared their workplace to be of only average health or pretty poor
  • 83.5% said their overall health and wellbeing is only “okay” or “could be improved”

To try and combat the high levels of chronic disease in the Australian population, the federal government has rolled out the Healthy Workers Initiative which is specifically targeted at the working population. The initiative is being run in each state and territory, and incorporates a range of incentives for employers to encourage participation in the free programs. For information on the Healthy Workers Initiative in your state, click the following links:


*Source: Workplace wellness in Australia: Aligning action with aims: Optimising the benefits of workplace wellness Medibank Health Solutions & PwC 2010


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  • by Anissa Thomas 25/08/2012 1:12:24 PM

    I think this is a great initiative and glad the government is offering incentives for employers to help workers lead a healthy lifestyle. I think they are missing a key factor though - I believe that another contributing factor to the high staff turnover, health issues and absenteeism has a lot to do with the health of each organisations culture. It would be great if the business leaders taking on these healthy lifestyles initiatives, take the time to also move in the direction of improving the health of the organisations culture.

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