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Employee Wellness Programs Are a Major Policy Success

by IHRSA November 28, 2012

One of the nation's greatest public health policy successes of the past ten years may be the widespread implementation of corporate wellness policies.

In fact, a recent notice from the Federal government states, "The Departments believe that appropriately designed wellness programs have the potential to contribute importantly to promoting health and preventing disease." In this case, "the Departments" refer to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the US Department of Labor, and the US Department of the Treasury.

The same notice reports that "wellness programs have become common among employers in the United States...[and] overall, employers largely report that workplace wellness programs are delivering on their intended benefit of improving health and reducing costs."

So, how are corporate wellness programs promoting physical activity?

According to a recent survey by Kaiser/HRET, 30% of all firms surveyed offer gym memberships or provide an onsite fitness facility. This includes 64% of large employers.

The importance of promoting physical activity as a core component of a corporate wellness program was underscored recently by a study published in the November 2012 issue of Health Affairs, which found that employer health care costs are 15.3% higher for physically inactive employees than active employees.

But persuading employees to adopt healthier behaviors, such as regular physical activity, can be exceedinly challenging and simply offering gym memberships or building an onsite fitness center is not likely to convert many employees from inactive to active.

"The key to success," says Bryan O'Rourke, IHRSA member and CEO of Integerus, "is a combination of facility design, and more importantly, an organizational commitment to a comprehensive wellness program."

And that commitment, according to fitness industry experts, must significantly impact the corporate culture.

"The percentage of participation of the workforce that participates in a wellness program or company-built fitness facility is really dependent on the company culture," notes Vaughn Marxhausen, Area General Manager for Houstonian Lite. "This culture starts at the top and filters down. It is usually difficult to increase participation or grow a program, if the culture of wellness is not present." I highly recommend his "The 3 Ps of Participation" strategy.

In this excellent video, Christine Thalwitz, Director of Communications & Research at ACAC Fitness & Wellness Centers, discusses specific strategies for creating a culture of wellness. The video is a must-see for any fitness company interested in corporate wellness.

From a corporate policy perspective, the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity's CEO Pledge, which not only confirms a CEO's commitment to providing a supportive environment for employee physical activity, but also asserts the CEO's own intent to be physically active, may also be one of the most meaningful and effective strategies for creating a corporate culture of wellness.

"With most working adults spending roughly half their waking hours on the job on the days that they work, it is incumbent upon business and industry leaders to become part of the solution," says IHRSA President/CEO and CEO Pledge signer, Joe Moore. "By promoting physical activity and healthy lifestyles within the workplace, CEOs help their company's bottom line, but they also help society."

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