There’s Value In Wellness Programs. It’s Just Not Financial

Workplace wellness programs have been getting a bad rap lately. While more than 80% of large companies and half of small businesses offer some type of program to address employee health, a new Harvard Medical School study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association is raising some eyebrows.

After observing two groups of BJ’s Wholesale Club employees – those who utilized a workplace wellness program and those who did not – researchers found little improvement in participants’ health metrics. An earlier study by the University of Illinois yielded similar results, concluding that such programs had no impact on employee health, productivity and medical spending.

If wellness programs aren’t actually making employees healthier, should companies continue to invest in these initiatives? The short answer is “yes.” Wellness programs offer value beyond simply lowering your staff’s blood pressure (or at least attempting to do so) and earning financial incentives – your commitment to employee wellness can make a difference in recruiting and retaining top talent.

 With record-low unemployment rates and a flourishing US economy, hiring has become exceedingly competitive, if not outright difficult. In fact, more than half of employers cite finding qualified and relevant talent as their most pressing recruiting challenge. Candidates now enjoy more options in choosing where they work since there are more job openings than there are unemployed workers to fill them. This has not only led to a war for talent but also high staff turnover rates, as it’s easier for employees to explore new career opportunities where the grass appears greener.

When multiple employers are vying for talent from the same pool, the company with the most alluring, unique and exciting culture often wins. Here is where your wellness program comes into play. But to stand out, you must offer something beyond conventional health insurance and sick leave. That’s why it’s not uncommon for today’s employers to offer anything from on-site fitness class and annual biometric screenings to employee assistance programs (EAPs) to support staff’s total well-being.

Wellness as a branding strategy

Whether you offer a full-blown wellness program or just a few unique healthy perks, these efforts bring a new, value-added element into your culture that appeals to applicants and tenured employees alike. To that point, research by Mercer shows that commitment to health and well-being ranks among the top three factors employees and candidates look for in an employer. However, merely having a wellness initiative embedded in your company culture isn’t enough to gain a leg up on your competitors. You will need to incorporate it into your employer branding strategy.

The concept of an employer brand is nothing new, but if you are unfamiliar with the term, it describes your company’s identity that you communicate to employees and potential hires. It encompasses elements of your mission, core values and, of course, your culture. In other words, it underscores what makes your company a great place to work.

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When employees and candidates recognize that you are committed to their physical, mental and even financial health (an emerging aspect of many wellness programs), it ups the ante for your employer brand. You’re essentially giving your current employees another reason to “stay” with you, and at the same time, are aiding your hiring goals.

Now, consider this: 89% of employees at organizations that provide well-being initiatives are more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work, according to the American Psychological Association. That’s a telling statistic, as satisfied employees willing to say great things about your company are your most powerful recruiting tools.

But don’t rely solely on your current staff to get the word out – weave your wellness program into your recruitment marketing efforts. This means promoting your initiatives on your website, in job descriptions, on your social media channels, onboarding documents and other collateral that supports your employer branding strategy.

More than just health

Regardless of whether a wellness program actually improves your employees’ health, there is much more value at stake. In a time when recruiting and retaining staff is more daunting than ever before, you need to pull out all your best and most unique recruitment marketing tactics. That means making your employees’ well-being an integral part of your company culture, and therefore, your employer brand. And if you happen to increase productivity and lower healthcare costs along the way, more power to you.

Steve Flook is president & CEO of iHire, a career-oriented platform that brings candidates and employers together in 56 industry-focused communities. As a technologist focused on software systems and information architecture, Flook has been at the forefront of the HR and recruitment technology space for nearly a decade.

Prior to his role as CEO, Flook served as a change agent with many operational roles at iHire, including president, VP of product development, and director of engineering. He previously spent 11 years at 270net Technologies, serving as CTO and providing technology consulting services in both the public and private sector.

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