Wellness Plans: The Work Comp Playbook For Employers

It’s been proven that happy, healthy employees are more engaged and productive at work. According to the CDC, absenteeism-related productivity losses cost employers $225.8 billion per year, or $1,685 per employee. When they are present at work, employees with healthy lifestyles are more likely to have a higher job performance. However, employees report nearly 4 million non-fatal work related illnesses and injuries each year, and 55,000 deaths stemming from work-related causes, and poor personal health can increase the risk of work-related injuries and exacerbate the existing ones, leading to more frequent and more expensive claims.

Poor health can have many negative consequences on your employees. In addition to the obvious impacts on their body, mental state, and work habits, poor health habits lead to increased workers’ compensation costs. Some of the most prevalent health issues that impact employees today are:

  • Obesity – Obese employees are twice as likely to file claims, with 6.8 times higher medical costs and disability leave time that is 13 times longer than employees who are not obese.
  • Heavy smoking – Smoking and tobacco use account for 20 percent of deaths in the United States each year, making them the leading cause of preventable death. In addition, employees who smoke are on average on disability leave for a longer amount of time than nonsmokers.
  • Stress – Stress is the number one workplace health issue in the United States, even more so than obesity and lack of physical activity.
  • Lack of sleep – Employees suffering from fatigue are more likely to make errors on the job, more likely to be involved in safety incidents, and less productive at work.
  • Chronic pain – Each year, the costs of lost productivity due to chronic pain range from $11.6 billion to $12.7 billion.

While it may be hard to influence employees’ personal lives when they are away from work, you can do your best to promote wellness at your company to instill healthy habits in your employees, improve their physical and mental health, and help them to feel better at work.   Typically, this will carry over to their personal lives. Here’s some of our advice on creating an effective workplace wellness plan that will improve your employees’ health and reduce safety incidents and workers’ compensation claims.

The Steps to Creating a Workplace Wellness Program

According to the Wellness Council of America, these are the steps a business should take when developing their wellness program:

  1. Capturing senior level support. As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, workplace-wide measures will not be effective without the support and participation of your business’s management. Make sure your senior-level employees are involved with the program and speaking about it with other employees.
  2. Creating cohesive wellness teams. Just having your senior executives involved isn’t enough, if you want the program to be effective, you should make sure that you place the right people in charge of the program to make sure it runs smoothly. It is also wise to consider pairing up employees who have similar health goals, as this will help them to form stronger bonds and improve their wellness efforts.
  3. Collecting data to drive health efforts. Not all workplaces are created equal. Everyone is different, and there’s no way to come up with a one-size-fits-all program. Find out what your workplace needs and apply it to your program. This could depend on the demographics of your company, your location, or your industry.
  4. Crafting an operating plan. In the next section, we will go into more detail about what you should include in your wellness program. Make sure you have a plan for what you would like to cover and how you would like to do it. Many businesses like to have a rotating monthly “theme” focusing on different health issues, but you can also offer consistent wellness options.
  5. Choosing appropriate interventions. You don’t want your employees to feel sensitive about their health problems, and you don’t want participating in the program to be more of a chore for them. Make sure the program is flexible and will allow your employees to easily participate, and be tactful when addressing sensitive issues.
  6. Creating a supportive environment. Make sure that your employees are aware that you will not tolerate any harassment or bullying in the workplace, and provide several outlets for employees to express their dissatisfaction in a safe and comfortable way.
  7. Consistently evaluating outcomes. Make sure to regularly check the effectiveness of your program. Is it reducing financial loss? Are your employees happier, healthier, and more productive? If something is not working, you should be ready with another option. If you wish, you can also incentivize outcomes.

What to Include in Your Program

Once you’ve worked out the logistics of your wellness program and are prepared to implement it throughout your business, it’s time to consider what to include in your program. While you should consider your industry, the individual members of your workplace, where you are located, and your company’s specific needs in the program, in general it is best to focus your wellness efforts in two areas: physical health and mental health.

One of the main things that employers should include in their wellness program is an increased emphasis on physical activity. Around your workplace, you can encourage employees to take breaks and walk around, or you can offer standing desks if it is within your budget and realm of possibility. If you have physically demanding jobs you should consider organizing stretches before work and at least once during the day. Hire a professional physical therapist to come in and assess your job descriptions to ensure you implement a safe program. Another option is to plan occasional company events to workout classes or nearby walks or runs, which will encourage people to get active and help to build company relationships. Many companies also offer discounted gym memberships, and some even have on-site workout facilities. If you don’t have the budget for a facility or memberships, consider offering on-site exercise classes (some of your employees could be able to lead the workouts). However, exercising isn’t the only thing to focus on: you can promote healthier eating by stocking your kitchen or breakroom with healthy snack foods, or occasionally having catered lunches from healthy eateries. If your company has food trucks come in, try and select vendors that offer healthy alternatives.  Consider how you feel after a unhealthy lunch.  You probably want to go back to your office and take a nap.  Now put yourself in the shoes of an employee who has a physically demanding job.  Poor eating habits can lead to decreased focus and less energy.  Both of these factors can contribute to workers’ compensation claims.

Making sure that your employees do not feel overly stressed or overworked is another step to improving workplace wellness. Do not allow employees to come to work when they are ill. In addition to increasing the likelihood that disease will spread in your office, this often makes employees feel stressed and more likely to burn out. Allow your employees to stay home when they’re sick, and make sure to provide adequate paid time off. Also, ensuring consistent breaks throughout the day can improve the mental and physical wellness of your employees.


About Compass RMS

The risk management firm Risk Management, Inc. has specialized in workers’ compensation since 1996, creating the CWCP (Certified Workers’ Compensation Professional) program in 1999 and the P4 process in 2000. We launched our Compass Risk Management platform in 2008 and recently released version 4.0. For more information about our services, give us a call at (770) 534-2042 to speak with one of our consultants.