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Investing in Employee Wellness Makes Good Business Sense

By Tracie Sponenberg, SVP HR, The Granite Group

Tracie Sponenberg, SVP HR, The Granite Group

Wellness. The dictionary definition of wellness is “the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.” As individuals, and as companies, we tend to think of wellness as physical wellness - being in good shape, exercising, eating right. But it is much more than that. According to Gallup, employees who rank high on the five elements of well-being - purpose, social, financial, community and physical - outperform other employees across several areas, and cost the company less money in healthcare costs and turnover, and are 81 percent less likely to seek a new employer in the next year.

As organizations, we have a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of our employees while they are at work. But, we should go a step further. Offering a wellness program - even a very simple one - not only is the right thing to do, it makes solid business sense. Employee engagement, well-being, and job performance are closely tied. If you are not paying attention to the well-being of your employees, you may be missing an opportunity to foster engagement and improve performance.  

When I started working at The Granite Group three years ago, we were facing escalating healthcare costs for a myriad of reasons - but largely because of unhealthy employee habits. We had offered biometrics for several years but had not done a deep dive into the data. So, we decided to work toward creating a culture of wellness. This was not easy in our industry, which does not have a stellar reputation for healthy habits (we are a wholesaler of plumbing, heating, cooling, water and propane supplies.) With 35 locations and 500 employees across six states and an HR team of three, we were able to create a program that works for us. And so it can for you. Here are five things we learned:

Get support from the top

In our case, our CEO was onboard with a change from the very beginning, as was our entire executive team. Like most initiatives, executive support is crucial.

You cannot change those who do not want to be changed, and you can’t control everything

We have employees who smoke, drink alcohol excessively, do not exercise and/or eat poorly. Some of them would not change behavior for anything. Since forcing behavior change (if, for example, we dis-allowed smoking within a certain radius of our buildings) bucks up against our culture, we had to let go of that and focus on those who were open to change. Additionally, we can’t control every location all of the time - nor do we want to (one of our core values is “entrepreneurial.”) But, we can make small changes that can have a large impact. At our annual meeting, for example, we offer an elaborate buffet dinner. Over the course of three years, we made changes to the menu to make it much healthier - with few if any complaints. We do this at many other corporate meetings as well. In our corporate office (our location with the most employees) we replaced our vending machines with a company-subsidized LeanBox, offering healthy snacks, drinks, breakfasts, and lunches.

"If you are not paying attention to the well-being of your employees, you may be missing an opportunity to foster engagement and improve performance"

Make wellness a part of your strategic plan

Last year, as we were setting up our three-year strategic plan, we identified a People-focused goal (at our company, we will always have a People-focused goal) of reducing voluntary turnover to under 10 percent. (Basically, keeping our employees happy and engaged so we don’t lose them.) There are several subgoals, but our fourth subgoal is Wellness - increasing participation in our wellness program by 20 percent. We identified areas, similar to Gallup’s, of focus: Physical Wellness: Offering three separate fitness/wellness reimbursements; partnering with a provider who offers off-site fitness classes. Emotional Wellness: A new EAP program with concierge services and robust offerings including in-person and online counseling and classes in a number of wellness areas. Financial Wellness: Offering financial wellness programs in each branch every year, along with online seminars. Social/Community Wellness: A Social Responsibility policy, and financially supporting at least one event in each region per quarter that gives back to the community, as well as one annual event that all locations participate in. We communicate our plans and offerings via emails, benefits fairs, mailings to homes, town halls, community visits and executive team branch visits.

People really do love to save money

We developed a multi-tier wellness incentive program which offered financial rewards for participating. First, employees could earn a percentage discount on health insurance premiums for participating in biometric screening. If they passed, they would earn a higher percentage. If they failed, they could complete a straightforward wellness challenge on our online portal to earn the lower rate. Second, employees could enroll in our free online wellness platform, Rally, and engage in three different activities to earn three different escalating incentives: a health assessment, wellness challenges, and coaching. Lastly, employees could participate in Rally-offered wellness challenges to earn digital coins, which could be used to enter sweepstakes or eventually be put toward gift certificates. The program has been a continued success.

Technology is your friend

The aforementioned wellness platform is available via desktop or mobile app and will allow us to measure participation and progress year after year. It is also tied into the biometric screenings. Data is obviously anonymized, but we will be able to see trends year to year and focus areas for us to offer programs and incentives. Also, as our platform is easy to use, we have even techno-phobic employees using it and enjoying it!

How has this worked out for us? Our voluntary turnover is under 10 percent, and an early peek into our health insurance claims data shows incredible progress made. Though it’s early to calculate a complete ROI on our investment in the wellness platform and other programs, we are making steady progress and more importantly, we offer a robust program to our employees that allow them to participate.

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