Wellness means many things to many different people, according to Robin Marcus, chief wellness officer for University of Utah Health.
“From my perspective and our perspective at the university, we’re interested in helping employees be healthy,” Marcus said. “Other places may be interested in that and also wellness as a means to engage employees in work.”
The university’s Office of Wellness and Integrative Health offers a variety of programs and services, including a corporate wellness program, but also works with units within the university to provide services.
Because it is so large, the university does not offer just one wellness program for all employees, Marcus said.
“Our HR departments run their own wellness programs,” she said. “My group provides services for them. The services we provide are related to health behaviors, helping people manage their choice relative to eating, physical activity, stress and sleep.”
When Marcus works with private businesses, she first asks what their goal is, she said. Different companies have different goals, Marcus said.
“Very honestly, many employers are interested in the health of their employees for two reasons,” she said. “One is altruistic: They believe their employees should be healthier and they want them to be healthier. The second is healthcare costs.”
Some companies may offer a wellness program simply because their competitors do, Marcus said. “To attract the employees they want to attract, they may need to offer one,” she said.
To provide a wellness program, an organization must analyze the health of its employees, Marcus said.
“Wellness is not typically one size fits all,” she said. “For example, if a company has an older population with issues with weight maintenance, diabetes, or pre-diabetes, the approach may be different than if it’s a younger population dealing with muscular skeletal issues from sitting at a desk all day or laborers having to lift heavy objects.”
Identifying the health issues the program aims to address is essential to identifying the right components of a wellness program, Marcus said.
“In simple terms, that means screening people about health issues, stratifying them into different risk levels and then targeting resources where they’re needed,” she said.
The No. 1 benefit of any wellness program should be to provide an education to employees on how to make healthy choices for themselves and their families, Marcus said.
“We hope it helps a company save money,” she said. “But the No. 1 benefit is helping people improve their health. Education and promoting self-care are really important.”
Saving a company money is a goal, but the purpose of wellness is engaging employees in a workplace that shows them it values employee recruitment and retention, Marcus said.
“Most of us want our employer to care about our health,” she said. “An employee wellness program is going to be much more successful if it decreases the friction to making health choices. For example, if you think you have a great wellness program but unhealthy food on campus, you’re sending a very mixed message.”
One of the most important contributions a wellness program can offer is to scan the organization’s environment and convert it into a healthy one, Marcus said.
“A gym would be wonderful, but it might not be realistic or necessary,” she said. “Offer inviting stairwells, healthy food, meetings that serve water instead of soda. There are all sorts of relatively inexpensive things you can do at a work site that complement a wellness program.”
Smaller businesses can promote wellness on a limited budget by addressing many of those environmental issues, rather than focusing on financial incentives, Marcus said.
“Provide a break and encourage people to get out, whether it’s up and down the stairs or outside to take a walk,” she said. “It costs a little because people are away from their desks not doing their jobs, but an hour and a half a week will be worth it to people.”
The Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2016 employer health benefits survey indicates that 83 percent of firms with 200 or more employees offer a wellness program in quitting smoking, managing weight, or behavior and lifestyle coaching, Marcus said.
Several Utah companies and organizations have implemented successful wellness programs, she said. Marcus praised ARUP Laboratories for its wellness program.
Natalie Sargent, wellness supervisor for ARUP, said the 3,500-employee company offers a program that is slightly different than typical corporate wellness programs in that it is not incentive based.
“We really focus on behavioral change,” Sargent said.
ARUP provides an onsite health clinic that can be used by employees, their families and their dependents at no cost, she said. As a result, the wellness center and health clinic are available for up to 8,000 people, Sargent said.
“Physicians and pharmacists will refer them to wellness to help them develop behavior changes,” he said. “For example, if you have diabetes, they will work with the patient and work on a plan for mindset, nutrition, movement and recovery.”