Do Corporate Wellness Programs Make Sense for Practice Staff?

By Practice Growth April 21, 2021

Corporate wellness programs are organized ways to promote healthier behaviors in staff, and these can exist at multiple levels. Some programs may have a narrow and easy-to-implement approach, such as flexible work hours for physical activity. Others have multiple tiers, allowing employees to choose one or more health goals, such as diabetes prevention, smoking cessation, or weight loss. While the structure of corporate wellness programs is highly variable, they are touted as beneficial not just to staff, but to an organization as a whole.

Research indicates a myriad of potential perks for employers, including:

- Improving employee healthful behaviors

- Better employee mental health

- Lowering employee health risks

- Reduced medical costs

- Improved workplace productivity

- Decrease absenteeism

- Fosters stronger organizational culture

- Better employee retention and recruitment

Clearly, corporate wellness programs can make an impact. Healthier and happier staff translates into a healthier and happier business. So, it isn’t hard to see why 81% of large corporations offered wellness programs in 2020, a rise of 11% since 2008. For optometry practices, however, the question that gives pause is, “how can wellness programs like those used in large corporations be adapted for small, medium, and large practices?”

Know What Makes a Strong Wellness Program

Top 6 Workplace Wellness Tips for a Small Business to ...While small-scale programs with a narrow focus may produce the desired outcomes, a broader scope tends to be more effective in promoting long-term change. Gallup research indicates corporate wellness programs that merely promote one aspect of wellness or are not integrated into the workplace culture are unlikely to yield enough positive outcomes to merit the investment. As companies frequently spend $50 to $150 per employee in offering small-scale wellness solutions, this doesn’t pay off when participation rates in such programs hover around 24%.

The characteristics of strong corporate wellness programs that garner above average participation and outcomes include:

- A multi-faceted definition of well-being, inclusive of career, community, financial, physical, and social elements

- Individual and institutional avenues for success

- Integration of the program into organizational culture and recognition that ongoing effort is required to thrive

At first glance, it may seem impossible to incorporate these elements into an optometry practice. Provided a wellness program is only worth the investment if it addresses a broad scope and needs continuous effort, it sounds like a lot of work and perhaps money. That’s when it is important to remember the potential perks of a good program.

Vendor-Led Corporate Wellness vs. Self-Designed

Building Strength 5K 2019 - Maplewod, MN - 5k - Running

Since corporate wellness programs can be complex, many businesses opt to use a vendor. These programs are pre-packaged and relatively easy to implement. Once the initial excitement surrounding a new wellness offering dies down in a practice, however, it requires managerial effort to create employee buy-in to continue using the program. This often means the practice must incur additional costs by providing participation incentives. With vendor-led programs, what qualifies as participation may also include preventative screenings that go beyond medical recommendations, as vendors boost their profits through referrals to such services.

While vendor-led wellness programs are not inherently bad, they still require work from practice management to promote employee participation. With a cookie-cutter design, they are not tailored to specific employee cultures. A better approach, which is scalable for small, medium, and large optometry practices, is perhaps to design a wellness program from scratch. This approach better attunes to workplace culture and adapts with just a little more effort and a lower price tag.

Here are some ways that a practice, regardless of size, can promote staff wellness:

- Wellness Wednesday challenges (e.g. walk 10,000 steps or meditate for 10 minutes)

- Make healthy snacks available

- Create a healthy office cookbook with employee recipes

- Office weight loss challenge (if planned with care and sensitivity)

- Bring in monthly or quarterly workshops (e.g. yoga, financial health), making efforts where all staff can attend

- Form an employee team for a 5K

- Impromptu contests (e.g. win a round of limbo, who has the healthiest snack at work)

- Theme days for attire (e.g. funny hat day or – better yet – funny glasses day)

- Recognize work anniversaries

- Seek group discount at local gyms, hot yoga, or any other fitness center.        

These ideas cost very little and can be incorporated into any size practice. When such wellness-promoting activities are regularly presented, it becomes part of the workplace culture and engages staff. Using just a few ideas like these targets multiple facets of wellness, which makes the self-designed program more likely to produce the positive outcomes that a practice needs to thrive.

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