The year 2017 has already started out rocky in the United States. With the new Presidential administration, the Affordable Care Act is on the chopping block, and many Human Resource professionals are wringing their hands waiting to see what happens.

If the ACA is gutted, insurance companies could change their contracts drastically. But this could also result in less businesses (especially startups or small businesses with over 50 employees) being required to provide healthcare coverage for their employees. Although this is a hard hit to the workers, this could be a huge budget cut for these small businesses.

However, in all this mix, the gutting of the ACA in terms of insurance coverage could overshadow the loss of another important aspect of the bill: incentives from employee wellness programs for businesses.

Business wellness programs have grown since the introduction of the Affordable Care Act due to the fact that businesses can receive a cut from insurance company premiums if they create or include employee wellness programs. These programs can include gym memberships, in-office yearly health screenings, and more.

But the cut from health insurance companies shouldn’t be the only benefit businesses see from these programs. The profits of healthy and happy employees far exceed the potential savings from the insurance companies.

Evidence in the Programs

Wellness programs vary based on the desired path the business wants to take. According to HIPAA and the designations by the Affordable Care Act:

“There are two types of health-contingent wellness programs: activity-only and outcome-based. Activity only programs require an individual to perform or complete an activity related to a health factor in order to obtain a reward. Examples are a walking, diet or exercise program. Outcome-based programs require an individual to attain or maintain a specific health outcome (such as not smoking or attaining certain results on biometric screenings) in order to obtain a reward.”

These programs rely on employee accountability, but health information cannot be shared from these programs with the company due to HIPAA. Due to the fairly broad nature of these programs, businesses have a variety of options available to increase the activity and health of their staff.

The Wall Street Journal recommends some simple possibilities: replacing snacks with healthier options, offer health assessments, provide gym memberships to employees, and provide tracking software or investing in wearable technology to hold employees accountable. This can be as simple as providing a BMI calculator, or purchasing FitBits for the entire floor.

In fact, wearable technology is considered to be extremely cost-effective for implementing wellness programs and keeping wearers accountable in their day-to-day lives. As Arizona State University notes, they provide convenient access to educational tools for wearers, encourage healthy behaviors, and provide an accurate assessment of lifestyle analysis. Over time, use of these devices can help cultivate healthy habits that reach far beyond office walls.

Why They Work

Research into the overall success of employee wellness programs has shown that these programs result in less sick days, lowered healthcare costs, and increased lifespan for the employee. But the benefits also bleed into the office culture.

Health and happiness are intrinsically tied together, and happy employees make for profitable businesses. As the University of Ohio notes, “the most employee-accommodating companies are also some of the most secure.” They also tend to be the fastest growing; with companies like Google, Intuit, and Salesforce among the top six. These companies offer benefits that focus on employee health and wellbeing, such as guaranteed paid maternity and paternity leave, and compressed work weeks.

Yet one can still argue that these technology-centered businesses are simply a product of their time, and are flourishing in our current economy. What about businesses in other industries? How do they compete in overall employee health and profits?

In a more general sense, any increased effort put into mitigating stress in the office has shown to improve overall profits. Stress, when built up over time, can lead to serious health problems. According to the American Institute of Stress, prolonged exposure to stress can lead to endocrine, nervous, gastrointestinal, and other complications in the body. Heart disease, GERD, obesity, and neurological conditions such as cluster headaches or migraines, can all stem from lack of outlet to diminish stress and overexposure to chronic mental strain.

If not properly given an outlet, these health problems will result in increased sick days, serious burnout, and even negative or harmful behavior, such as theft or insider trading; all of which can directly impact a company’s productivity and profits.

The easiest way to mitigate stress in the office is to provide a healthy outlet. Businesses that promote healthy activities inside or outside the office and create wellness programs can do just that.

Creating a Wellness Culture

Making wellness and employee health a core part of any company’s culture is sure to raise overall profits. Inclusive wellness programs raise morale, productivity, and employee engagement, and reduce sick days that may result from intense overexposure to stress. In turn, this raises production, and the quality of work, and could result in employees staying with the company for longer periods of time.

It’s a cyclical system—promoting health, cultivating employee wellness, and increasing profits—that can help many businesses succeed. It simply requires businesses to invest in their employee’s health.

The push for wellness programs shouldn’t just come from cuts provided by insurance agencies and the ACA. Examples in the business industry such as Google and Intuit prove that making health and happiness a priority can make for a very successful team of personnel. Once the culture is built, the evidence will speak for itself.

Author: Katie McBeth is a freelance writer out of Boise, ID, with experience in marketing for small businesses and management. She spends her free time being the mother of three cats and a dog named Toby. You can follow her animal and writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter @ktmcbeth. Find out more about happy employees @ohio_online.

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