Implementing Wellness and Leisure in the WorkplaceCompanies of all sizes are starting to realize the effect of increasing health care costs on their bottom line. According to the National Business Group on Health 2007-2008 Report, employers identified stress in the workplace as the major factor affecting their productivity (NewsWire, 2008). The same report also pointed to stress, dubbed as the disease of the 20th century, as the main reason why employees decide to quit their jobs.
Aside from workplace stress, family situations and lifestyle have also significantly contributed to a generally unhealthy workforce.
A study reported that depression and other psychological disorders, unharmonious working relationships and family issues related to parenting or divorce lead to absenteeism (Ipsos-Reid, 2004). An increasingly obese workforce also results in greater health complications along with cigarette smoking.Hence, if companies wish to maximize their employees’ capacities, meet its targets and reduce expenses related to health care benefits, they should consider designing and implementing employee wellness and leisure programs in the workplace.
These initiatives have been proven effective in motivating employees, increasing their morale and improving their lifestyle. This translates to reduced absenteeism, presenteeism or sick days.Currently, as few as 3.3% of companies in the U.
S. provide additional employee benefits in the form of programs like this and majority of those who did reported 25% or less in employee participation (Kelly & Associates, 2006). Some of the companies with high participations rates belong to the Fortune 500 and had workplace wellness initiatives in place as early as the 1990’s (U.S.
Corporate Wellness, 2008).The current wellness programs evolved out of the Employee Development Program (EDP) instituted by the Ford Motor Company as part of the collective bargaining agreement with its workers union (McKenzie and Hodge, 1999). The EDP was meant to effect personal growth and higher self-esteem among workers through leisure-based activities.Employee wellness and leisure programs today include regular health risk assessments, quit-smoking programs, in-site workout facilities or subsidized gym programs, adding healthier foods in the cafeteria menu, employee diet groups and diet counseling, allotting a portion of employee work time for walking and other forms of exercise (Delloitte, 2006).
The experiences of some companies with their employee wellness and leisure programs are summed up as follows:General Electric’s Explosive Fitness ProgramThe General Electric Engine Services plant based in McAllen, Texas is engaged in the re-manufacture of plane engine parts where workers perform the difficult labor of stripping and cleaning the engines and finishing the parts on a daily basis. This type of work has made employees susceptible to occupational disorders related to the wrist and shoulders.Management has responded pro-actively so that instead of waiting for workers to call in sick and for their doctors to forward medical bills, they focused on instituting various injury prevention measures. As such, the GE McAllen plant recently constructed an 800-square foot room intended for employee workout installed with treadmills, elliptical machines and weight-lifting machines (Kyle, 2007).
In addition, massage therapists were employed to deal with muscle pain problems which are chronic in the workplace. GE also hired Weight Watchers to design and implement exercise and fitness programs intended for overweight employees. Further, calisthenics and stretching exercises are also a must for all workers prior to the start of the work day and during break time as an additional measure against repetitive strain injuries.The latest addition to the GE McAllen employee fitness program was in July, 2007.
Thrice weekly and after office hours, 40 of the 400 employees partake in the corporate sponsored workout called Explosive Fitness (Kyle, 2007). For an hour, they do push ups, crunches, mountain climbers, jumping jacks and jogging which constitute intense physical activity. The 10% participation rate may be due to the fact that GE shoulders only half of the costs pertaining to the program.This program had tangible benefits for both management and the employees.
The plant general manager reported a decrease in sick days and also a consequent decrease in expenses for health care (Kyle, 2007). Employees who have joined Explosive Fitness also report that they can sleep better and have more energy at work as a result of exercise. They also relate that socializing through exercise has improved working relationships.Pacific Bell’s FitWorks ProgramIn 1990, Pacific Bell introduced its health promotion geared towards “improved employee capability, reduced absenteeism and health care cost containment” (Health Project, 1997).
This was accomplished through an integrated approach to institute necessary changes in work environment, management practices and personal lifestyle. The strategy was towards preventing the effects of employee health problems.At that time, 38% of the 52,000 workers employed by the California-based telecommunications company were overweight, had high cholesterol levels and whose lifestyles were generally sedentary (Bnet, 1995). Health assessments revealed high risks not only to coronary disease but also to lung cancer and depression among workers (Bnet, 1995).
Pacific Bell hired professionals in the fields of health, social work, exercise, administration and work safety to aid in the analysis of corporate conditions, the formulation of an appropriate health program and its implementation (Health Project, 1997). The result was the FitWorks Program aimed at educating employees on back care, how to stop smoking and encourage a more active lifestyle among others.Wellness centers were also established with health safety video libraries and a hotline to enable worker access to accurate health related information. Fitness facilities were put up for individual and group weight management, general fitness maintenance or intensive maintenance conditioning for the line maintenance workers who engage in demanding manual labor (Bnet, 1995).
Participation rates were high at 66% because the FitWorks program was fully corporate sponsored and voluntary.A physical fitness program was even designed for those who wish to do it at home. Further, the workplace was redesigned into separate ergonomic workstations that were regularly evaluated and accordingly modified (Health Project, 1995). This environment enabled more comfort, social interaction and safety while minimizing the incidence of both injury such as chronic back pain and fatigue.
The benefits of this program have been immense and bolstered the study and development of corporate wellness strategies. Absenteeism was reduced by 0.8%, cardiovascular risks in employees decreased by 20% and disability lowered by 3.3 days (Bnet, 1995).
Savings during the first year amounted to $5 million, jumped to $7 million the next year and further increased to more than $8 million by the third year (Bnet, 1995). Almost half of these savings were attributed to decreased absenteeism. The return of investment from 1992-1994 was also quite encouraging with 1.84, 2.
15 and 3.1 respectively. This experience earned Pacific Bell several corporate health and wellness awards.Unilever’s Vitality ProgramIn 2004, Unilever U.
K. launched its employee wellness and leisure program called Vitality. It was geared towards reconciling the company’s mission statement of “adding vitality to life” with the quality of life of its own employees. The program was designed to harness physical fitness towards effective work performance and ensuring that workers are safe from environmental hazards (HR Magazine, 2004).
It was designed to fit Unilever’s corporate culture of consumerism and involved the top leaders actively participating during its pilot phase to entice employees. The over-all goal in the continuing program is for the company to earn a reputation in occupational hazard reduction through ensuring the health and well-being of its workers.Vitality was implemented through 3 P’s which are Product, Partnership and People. The People aspect led to establishing a health and safety promoting work environment, work style and working relationships (HR Magazine, 2004).
This involved assessing factors such as stress levels, noise levels, ergonomic design and quality of food in the workplace. It also included exercise and nutrition programs that can be done during break or lunchtime with the guidance of hired personal trainers in the on-site gym (HR Magazine, 2004).Employees were also made to fill-up online assessment questionnaires with regards to health risks, quality of life with emphasis on health conditions and work performance. Health promotion was conducted through regular emails to advising employees on how to enhance their health based on these assessments (HR Magazine, 2004).
Workshops, seminars and on-site health fairs were also corporate events. A Vitality Index was used to record the health, well-being and work performance of workers and is constantly monitored through a score card.Results of the program have also been very positive – 80% of Unilever employees reported they sleep better, 83% said they had higher energy levels, the number of high risk employees decreased and work performance also significantly increased (HR Magazine, 2004). The mean return of investment per employee was pounds ?280.
00 which is equivalent to ?3.73 per ?1.00 expended for the program (HR Magazine, 2004).ConclusionPast and continuing experience with corporate wellness and leisure practices underscores the reality that creating a healthy workforce translates to better business performance quantifiable through return of investment figures and other indicators.
There is no standard program that fits all companies but rather, the characteristics of companies – culture and image, work environment and workforce should be taken into consideration in the formulation of programs in order to ensure that it will be effective and worth the investment. List of ReferencesArnold, K. (2007). Workplace Workout: Businesses Using Fitness to Motivate Employees, Increase Productivity.
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