Lifestyle Employee Benefits with Payback

By Julie Rains on 23 July 2010 (Updated 31 December 2010) 0 comments
Photo: arekmalang

Wellness programs, employee assistance programs (EAPs), and more hold promise for boosting employee well-being and company profits. Consider free resources along with paid programs to get the highest return on effort and dollars expended.

Wellness Programs

The cost of a wellness program, depending on its components, can range from free to $500 per employee each year. Start by reviewing employee wellness concerns and dissecting health care costs. Then, pinpoint areas such as nutrition, fitness, disease management, and/or tobacco cessation with opportunity for improvements in health and productivity. Take baseline assessments and set measurable goals, both in terms of employee participation and results. For example, you might track attendance at nutrition counseling sessions and quit-smoking clinics, along with reductions (if any) in health care expenses.

If there's little in your budget for wellness or if you'd like to test some ideas, consider low-cost benefits, such as:

  • Healthy drinks and snacks rather than sodas, pastries, and candy in vending machines and during company meetings
  • Flextime to give employees time before, during, or after work to exercise
  • Sponsorship of teams that participate in organized fitness-oriented events such as charity walks, runs, or bike rides
  • Walking program
  • Weight Watchers at work (employee paid)
  • Group discounts at fitness facilities
  • Lunch-n-learn sessions with speakers on wellness topics from area health care organizations, nonprofit groups, and private providers

Costlier but valuable and more focused programs can include:

  • Health assessments and screenings with medical recommendations and follow-up sessions
  • On-site fitness facilities with exercise classes
  • Classes on health and wellness topics
  • Nutritional and dietary counseling
  • Wellness services for the entire family, not just individual employees

Engage a wellness firm to design, package, promote, present, and manage the program; access services offered by your medical insurance company; or find several providers to handle various aspects of a multi-faceted program. Small business owners and employees alike may embrace these activities as welcome opportunities to get support for reaching personal goals; others may resist what they perceive as meddling in their personal affairs. To improve acceptance and get higher payback, offering a high quality program that is aligned with employees' perceived needs and that contains program options (rather than targeting one behavior such as smoking) could be most successful.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)

The cost of EAPs vary depending on how programs are packaged and delivered: Your small business might pay a per-employee fee of $20-60 each year for access to a suite of services plus charges for individual counseling sessions beyond crisis intervention. Alternatively, arrangements might involve no upfront charges through referral-only resources or a flat annual fee for consultations, assessments, and specified number of counseling sessions.

EAPs are often associated with substance abuse treatment but are just as likely to include support on issues such as:

  • Crisis management (relating to sudden change in circumstances or natural disasters)
  • Anxiety, depression, and stress
  • Family and marital relationship difficulties
  • Childcare and parenting resources including those relating to special needs children
  • Budgeting and debt management
  • Anger management, communication, and conflict resolution skills

A small business might not consider an EAP because few, if any, employees will use the services. However, personal problems of just one or two employees can often be distracting and sometimes devastating to the entire workforce. So, even if a formal employee assistance program doesn't seem to be worth a budget line item, consider finding and developing resources that can address concerns of employees. For example, add mental health services to medical insurance; compile lists of community resources; or give extra time off for approved family, school, and financial counseling sessions.

More Programs

Your business might offer work/life benefits, such as:

  • Concierge services
  • Adoption assistance
  • Childcare or afterschool care
  • Support for higher education

To control costs, offer subsidies rather than bearing entire expenses for programs, require a certain number of years of service for program eligibility, and create a cafeteria plan to allow employees to use pre-tax dollars for certain services (childcare and adoption, for example).

Why bother?

Benefits can attract and retain talented employees, but the right benefits can also improve day-to-day productivity and even lower health care costs. Set policies that support confidentiality and fair treatment of all employees.

Be careful to offer the right mix for current employees and those you'd like to bring to your company. All might appreciate healthier food choices in the break room while many will be divided on needs for childcare-eldercare, fitness programs, and budgeting. Having a menu of lifestyle benefits demonstrates commitment to all, rather than a select few, employees.

Measure payback by looking at the big picture of employee morale and details such as the number of employee absences, time spent handling personal issues at work, production in terms of sales and project completions, and insurance rates.

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