How wellness programs can help you retain the best candidates

Talent is the engine that truly drives any business – more than implementation of the latest cloud technology, the quality of equipment or even the guiding vision of experienced executives in the C-suite. Without a talented workforce, organizations are doomed to see their execution fail, regardless of how well their products or services might have worked in theory. Attracting that talent, if you don't already have it in place, requires well-written, compelling job postings, skilled interviewers and competitive salary and benefit offerings. 

Retaining talent, meanwhile, is contingent on factors like opportunities for advancement, a reasonable work-life balance and maintaining a favorable working environment and culture. Businesses can manifest the latter in various ways. Seeing as May is Global Employee Health and Fitness Month, it makes sense to look at how workplace wellness initiatives may be a worthwhile investment for  fostering a healthier, more engaged workforce – one that people want to be part of – within your organization.

Adapting to workers' demands 

It doesn't take an academic to point out that people and organizations are focusing far more on physical health now than they were just a decade or so ago. All you need to do is look at any nutrition-facts label or food and beverage advertising campaign. In your business this increased focus on health and fitness may surface in staff requests for healthier snack options, reduced rates for gym memberships or perhaps standing desks.

You might not receive explicit requests for a wellness program. But the 2018 Global Talent Trends survey found that about 50% of employees want to see a greater level of attention paid to all forms of well-being, including physical health. Another study, by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, determined approximately 59% of workers think employers should devote resources to staff health improvement. There's an active interest in better wellness among many employees, and you'd be wise to find ways to give them what they want. 

Benefits to organizations and workers alike 

Skepticism about workplace wellness initiatives is far from unheard of, and you wouldn't be unreasonable to want evidence of their success. The RAND Corporation's comprehensive study on this matter, conducted on behalf of the Department of Labor, determined (among many other conclusions) that 80% of employers offering wellness programs reported decreased employee absenteeism and an uptick in productivity as they maintained these initiatives over the course of several years. (As an aside, it's critical to note that any program of this sort needs to be a continuous effort, rather than a one-off observance.)

The Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion noted that various studies have noted considerable savings per employee as a result of wellness programs, in terms of annual health care costs as well as the dollar value of individual productivity. This is a critical point due to the severity of the issues involved: Per data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, productivity losses stemming from employees' personal and family-related health issues cost employers in the U.S. an average of about $226 billion a year – or $1,685 per worker. 

More importantly, though, these initiatives seriously benefit the health of employees when successfully executed, even those who participate less substantively than others. Consider the office environments that constitute such a large share of all of the workplaces in America: staff spend most of their time seated, because most of them carry out the majority of their responsibilities at computer workstations. This creates a significant health risk through no fault of their own, as plenty of research has shown (such as The Lancet's widely cited 2012 study). Encouraging a cumulative hour of physical activity each day – even if it's just taking the stairs each time workers enter and exit the building, or taking a quick walk during lunch – helps counteract the risk factors of sedentary office life.

Attesting to the value of employees

Dr. Steven Aldana, CEO of wellness solutions firm WellSteps, noted that there isn't statistically significant data about wellness programs' effects on recruitment. However, he also wrote that these initiatives can certainly improve retention.

As long as the program in question is one with real substance and targeted goals – i.e., focused on aspects of health that are most relevant to your staff –  it can demonstrate your organization's faith in, and support of, its employees. Workers who know that you value their well-being as people just as much as you prize their contributions to crucial projects are much more likely to stay with the organization than those who think management views them as mere cogs in the machine.