Workplace wellness programs are a big business within the world of business.
In the U.S., programs to get employees to lose weight, exercise, eat better, enhance teamwork and reduce stress are an $8 billion industry.
In its annual employers survey, the Kaiser Family Foundation found 53% of small firms and 82% of large firms offering some sort of program in the areas of smoking cessation, weight management and behavioral or lifestyle change.
The Affordable Care Act made it possible for companies to offer incentives worth up to 30% of the cost of health insurance, which led some employers to offer potentially hundreds or thousands of dollars in discounted insurance premiums or reduced deductibles.
While a Harvard study published in The Journal of American Medicine in April called into question the long-term benefits of workplace wellness programs, measurable short-term benefits included more active lifestyles, better weight management, potential savings to employers in insurance claims and reduced absenteeism because of illness and better productivity.
The 18-month Harvard evaluation was conducted from January 2015 to June 2016. It remains to be seen if long-term benefits will become more pronounced as workplaces continue to promote exercise and wellness, but clearly the effort does produce results.
Some programs are simple, offering gift cards or other small incentives to fill out a health risk assessment, take a lunch-and-learn class, or join a gym or walking group. Others are far more invasive, asking employees to report on a variety of health-related questions and roll up their sleeves for blood tests.
A number of this year’s Best Places honorees participate in Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Blue & You Fitness Challenge, in which teams of employees log their fitness hours as they compete for prizes.
A few employers offer financial incentives to workers who actually reduce their risk factors — lowering high blood pressure, for example, or reducing levels of bad cholesterol — or who make concerted efforts to participate in programs that might help them reduce these risk factors.
Through its CHELP initiative, Central Arkansas Water employees can log and track their eating and workout routines on their way to better health. Points are earned and can be redeemed for prizes and/or time off.
One of the most popular initiatives is offering on-site fitness centers with features ranging from swimming pools to weights to cardio equipment. The convenience, usually accompanied by an on-site shower/dressing room, makes a lunchtime workout that much harder to turn down.
Information Network of Arkansas, based in Little Rock, has a gym in an adjacent building and pays for half the membership as well as allowing employees time to take fitness classes during business hours.
Smoking cessation programs are immensely popular, both nationwide and with this year’s slate of Best Places honorees. Little Rock’s Advantage Service Company offers up to $750 for two continuous, smoke-free years.
The popularity of yoga as a workplace wellness activity is reflected in places like sustainability company Entegrity, of Little Rock, which offers on-site yoga twice a week. It’s far from the only one of this year’s Best Places to do so.
Cycling’s popularity is not only reflected in the number of bike trails crisscrossing the state, but in workplace cycling and bike to work programs.
Movista is not only located in a unique building, an old icehouse in Bentonville’s Market District, it is uniquely situated on the Razorback Regional Greenway trails network. With a bike rack in the office, Movista offers an example of the popular transit option initiative in which workplaces encourage alternate methods of transportation.
Paramedical services aren’t as life-critical as they sound and might include massage therapy, or bringing some other type of expert on campus. Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus PC, of Little Rock, provides on-site, upper body massages to employees free of charge.
Regardless of the activity, it is clear that this year’s Best Places to Work honorees are invested in the well-being of their employees and are willing to expend resources and think creatively so the entire operation enjoys the benefits.
See more of this year's BEST PLACES TO WORK.
A supplement to Arkansas Business