by Razor Suleman | February 24, 2011

Companies that understand that their employees are the driving force behind growth and revenue have the competitive advantage. While it has become clear that more importance should be placed on keeping employees happy, wellness has been on the minds of HR professionals for quite some time, and the majority of U.S. employers offer programs—unfortunately they have minimal participation.  Here’s why incorporating rewards and recognition into your wellness program for full participation is a strategic investment.

Productivity will improve
There’s a difference between an employee being present and an employee being actively present. Healthy lifestyles increase energy and decrease stress. The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that poor employee health status results in a 5 to 10 percent decrease in overall productivity. 

Healthy employees cost less
A wellness program can be a huge undertaking, but it reduces health care costs by 26 percent and has a ROI ratio of $5.8-to-$1, according to the American Journal of Health Promotion. With the retirement age on the rise and more aging workers, it will become increasingly important for companies to focus on preventative healthcare.

Absenteeism rates will drop
A good portion of absenteeism in the workplace is due to stress and avoidable lifestyle choices. Implementing a wellness program decreases sick leave absenteeism by 27 percent.

There will be less turnover
A study by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health shows that organizations with highly effective wellness programs report significantly lower voluntary turnover. A wellness program gives an edge in establishing your workplace as a competitive one and helps retain A-players

Make the investment 
Maintaining the health of employees is an investment in business success. Although the evidence speaks for itself, implementing a program is a huge undertaking. Getting full participation is even harder. Some of the top workplaces boast on-site gyms and life coaches to raise convenience and motivation, but there are less expensive ways to get people to commit.   

Physical activity, screenings and on-site flu shots, tobacco cessation counseling, educational seminars, and food options all play a part in the program, but they won’t succeed unless the objectives are transparent. Intrinsic motivation works best, so giving employees autonomy in identifying personal goals that are aligned to a company-wide goal is a sound strategy. 

Voluntary running and walking clubs and company-wide health challenges are simple physical initiatives that employees can help lead and sustain. Healthy snack options in break rooms and at company functions are another easy way to incorporate wellness from the management end. Employees at supermarket chain Wegmans, for example, took part in a challenge to eat five cups of fruit and vegetables and take up to 10,000 steps each day for eight weeks.     

The important thing is embedding wellness into your culture. Think of fun and creative ways to celebrate wellness. Having a space dedicated to displaying program goals publicly holds employees accountable and establishes making those goals as a priority. Asking employees to submit healthy recipes for a company-wide cookbook is another tool to engage employees in wellness.

Senior management support, as in all endeavors, is important. Apart from endorsement, the flexibility that upper-level management can offer is a factor of wellness program success.    

Recognize and reward
Recognition that is timely and specific drives repetition of the behaviors associated with it. Both private and public recognition have a time and place. Send out e-mails congratulating those who are making progress on their goals or are starting the trend of verbally recognizing peers. 

Companies need to not only create programs but also rewards. Point-based programs, in which employees can accumulate and select rewards, have proven effective in sales and value-oriented goals, so why not adopt the strategy for wellness programs? Offering money towards a gym membership and non-cost rewards such as a premiere parking spot for a competition winner are both suitable incentives. For example, rather than receiving bonuses this holiday season, Ikea employees received bicycles as thanks for their hard work.  

A shocking number of organizations still can’t take advantage of the ROI that wellness programs offer due to lack of employee participation. Recognition and rewards represent a major tool in getting everyone aboard. Physical and mental health are major factors in employee engagement and productivity, and implementing preventative care can be a cost-effective strategy for an employer. It can also be a great way to establish your workplace as a competitive one and attract and retain top performers. If you don’t have a wellness program yet, it’s time to look into implementing one. If you do, investigate its participation level, boost its effectiveness through rewards and recognition, and watch your company reap the benefits.  

Razor Suleman is the CEO and founder of I Love Rewards, a provider of Web-based employee reward and recognition, sales incentive, and service award solutions. I Love Rewards works with top employers across North America to recruit, retain, and inspire employees, and drive results most important to business success. For more information, visit