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The Connection Between Wellness and Productivity: Insights for HR Managers

Ross Simons

Ross Simons

Director of Inbound Marketing
employee wellness productivity connection hr managers

It’s well documented that employee wellness programs can reduce a company’s healthcare costs — to the tune of $3 or more for every dollar spent. Lower medical costs alone justify an investment in employee wellness, but that’s hardly the end of the story.

Employers often overlook the many other benefits of helping employees live healthier, happier, more balanced lives.

Multiple studies (and countless real-life examples) have shown that wellness programs help attract talented workers, reduce turnover, and drive engagement. But, perhaps, their most significant impact on the bottom line comes through improving employee productivity.

It’s not just about helping employees avoid illness and injury, which can diminish their performance and cause them to miss days — although, that’s a part of it.

Holistic wellness offerings help employees manage all the problematic aspects of their lives that consume their thoughts and energy, from financial anxiety to relationship challenges. The result is a more focused and productive workforce.

By the Numbers: Employee Wellness and Productivity

As of 2020, over half of U.S. employers offer general wellness programs, a percentage that has steadily climbed over the past several years — thanks, in part, to their considerable impact on productivity. More than 90% of business leaders (according to a survey of over 500) say that promoting wellness can improve employee productivity and performance.

Researchers have confirmed that well-designed employee wellness programs do, indeed, boost productivity.

  • A 2013 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed that wellness program participants gain over 10 productive hours annually.
  • A 2018 study in Management Science analyzed productivity data for 111 wellness program participants and reported that the employees increased their productivity by about 10%.

Employee wellness programs have a substantial and measurable effect on productivity because they can help employees manage several challenges that prevent them from being their best selves at work.

Healthy Employees Are Productive Employees

Being in good health doesn’t just mean visiting the doctor when you get sick or hurt yourself.

Overall wellness comes from living a healthy lifestyle, which involves managing chronic conditions and making healthy choices about what you eat, what you do, and how you respond to stress. When employees gain control of these aspects of their lives — with the help of a wellness program — they tend to experience fewer debilitating illnesses and, as a result, miss fewer work days.

For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that overweight and obese men miss about two more days of work per year than those who are not overweight. Obese women miss five days more per year than non-overweight women.

Given the prevalence of obesity among the American workforce, it’s clear how an effective wellness initiative focused on healthy diet and exercise would help the typical company combat absenteeism. (The same would be true for other health-focused wellness offerings, such as smoking-cessation programs.)

Similarly, wellness programs can also reduce presenteeism — coming to work while sick or injured. Many experts believe presenteeism costs employers several times more than absenteeism. After all, it’s hard to focus on work when you’re distracted by pain or your mind is clouded by illness.

The Tools for Managing Mental Health

Nearly one in five American workers rates their mental health as “fair” or “poor” (according to a recent Gallup survey of nearly 16,000 working adults). Members of this group report about 10 more unplanned absences per year than those who rate their mental health as “excellent” or “very good.” (11.8 missed workdays vs. 2.5.)

Clearly, the U.S. workforce is suffering from a mental health epidemic, and the economic impact is severe. When workers struggle with anxiety, depression, addiction, and other mental health challenges — for any reason — they often lose interest in their work. Disengagement, which leads to burnout and, ultimately, turnover, is high among employees dealing with mental health issues.

This is one reason mental health has become a central component of employee wellness programs in recent years. By giving employees the tools to manage their mental health issues, employers can help employees regain their enthusiasm for the job. Employees become more focused, creative and, of course, productive.

Offerings such as yoga and meditation classes can help employees learn to manage stress, while video therapy appointments and chat apps can provide on-demand access to qualified mental health professionals.

(Plus, proper diet and exercise — classic wellness components — can work wonders for a person’s mental health.)

Fostering Positive Attitudes

One surprising connection between employee wellness and productivity is how widespread employee wellness contributes to a positive workplace culture, creating a backdrop against which creativity and collaboration can thrive.

Many employee wellness activities are group challenges — a certain number of steps per month across the entire office, for example. Encouraging each other toward achieving shared wellness goals can bring team members together. This can be incredibly effective for connecting employees across generations and newer employees with veterans.

Wellness programs can also affect how employees think about their employers. Employees want to improve their well-being and think highly of employers that help them reach their goals.

The researchers from the 2018 study mentioned above noted that “When workers discover unknown health problems” through a wellness program, “they may feel increased gratitude toward their employer and reciprocate that by increasing their effort.”

The researchers observed:

“[A] program designed to improve well-being might improve worker attitudes by credibly signaling to employees the firm’s broader concern for the quality of their work life, and even the quality of their life outside the workplace.”

In other words, when employers demonstrate care for their employees by offering a wellness program, employees show more care for their employers in the form of increased productivity and engagement.

A Successful Employee Wellness Program Depends on Communication

We’ve discussed three ways employee wellness programs can increase productivity:

  • Reducing time lost to sick days and absenteeism
  • Improving employees’ mental health
  • Promoting a positive, collaborative workplace atmosphere

But even the most well-designed, feature-rich wellness program will have minimal impact on productivity if your employees don’t know it exists or how to use it. Unfortunately, too many wellness programs fail to produce results because employees are unaware of them (or have misconceptions about them).

The key to a successful wellness initiative is communication: getting the word out about wellness program features, how to use them, and how they can help. Often, a multichannel approach is required, including email, newsletters, video, and text messages.

Whether you’re launching a new wellness program or looking to increase utilization for your current program, Flimp can help you design and execute an attention-grabbing awareness campaign. Click here to learn more and get in touch.

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