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When It Comes To Wellness Programs--Consider Workplace Culture Before ROI

I've been a wellness professional with OneDigital for more than a decade, and during that time a question that comes up often from clients is "How do we effectively measure the ROI of our wellness program?" This is certainly an important question for anyone that is making financial decisions on the behalf of their organization--and according to recent findings, is not only possible but favors such an investment.

In a recent article from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), the following was shared:

A 2012 report by the not-for-profit International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, A Closer Look: Wellness ROI, similarly found that most North American employers that have analyzed the ROI of their wellness programs have found $1 to $3 decreases in their overall health care costs for every dollar spent. See the SHRM Online article Study: Wellness Programs Saved $1 to $3 per Dollar Spent.”

Moreover, lowering health risk factors to their theoretical minimums, if this were possible, would reduce average annual health care costs per working-age adult by 18.4 percent, according to study results published in the January 2013 issue of the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Wellness professionals know this to be true--but I would argue that for some employers, the more important question is "Are you willing to invest in changing your culture to support your wellness strategies?" before even remotely being concerned with ROI.

The needle really doesn’t move unless people change their behaviors. Behavior change doesn’t really happen unless you offer programs that support the behavior change process. Programs that are focused on education, information and awareness will only get you so far. If you never evolve your health improvement strategy to address the behavior change process, you won’t see much effectiveness.

People change behavior based on their awareness of a health condition, their motivation to change, their ability to develop strategies to sustain their behavior change and the supportive environment around them.

Think about it this way--if you think of a wellness strategy as a nice "to have" but don't make it integral to your overall employee benefits strategy, it has no anchor. It is an extra piece of fluff that might make you feel good in offering it--but doesn't get at the heart of the problem you are trying to get under control--the health care cost challenge. Programs started like this--in a vacuum, or doomed to fail and will certainly never have a positive impact of the health and wellbeing of your employees, or your bottom line.

Successful wellness initiatives are so because they are thought of as bona fide investments crucial to solving a problem. They deliver impact because they are woven into the culture of an organization--in some cases so much so that creating a healthy place to work and thrive is a part of the mission statement.

So before the question of ROI is asked, the question of “what type of culture do we want to create” should be asked first. Once you understand the intent of your programs, and how to adapt them to your current culture appropriately, you’ll have a better understanding of the return on investment. And hopefully, like the recent findings shared by SHRM, they'll be positive.