green plant in clear glass vase
green plant in clear glass vase

I have heard the question: “what is the ROI for workplace wellness?” many times, and usually it is a cue for me that the person I am talking to doesn’t understand the full impact and importance of workplace wellness programs.  The ROI is, from my perspective, the least valuable measure of importance of workplace wellness programs.  What about having healthy, happy, and productive employees?  Showcasing leadership values through wellness participation?  Increasing employee engagement through wellness teams?  Doing the right thing to create an atmosphere and culture that is positive and caring? …

Somehow, despite all these important benefits, ROI continues to be the question intended to supply intel to the money handlers within organizations so wellness programs can wrestle free funds to support workplace wellness.

So what is the ROI on workplace wellness programs?  The answer is complicated, and it really depends on a variety of different circumstances. However, there is a healthy supply of data from academia and the industry supporting a resounding positive ROI.

Much of the industry based data comes from large scale wellness initiatives in the US, European companies or government agencies.  The ROI varies considerably, ranging from 2:1 to greater than 10:1, based on savings from reduced health costs, decreased absenteeism, reduced WCB costs and lower insurance costs.  The formulas for ROI also vary and depend on the measures used for both the costs and the savings.  For example, the US models include the costs of employee health care, while in Canada, much of the health care costs are funded publicly, thus factor less into ROI.

In the last few years, there has been an increase in Canadian ROI data with a few key studies.  I’m most excited about the current Sun-Ivey Canadian Wellness ROI study that has already produced some great results.  This study follows a partnership between a National Insurance Company (SunLife Financial) and an esteemed Business School (Ivey Business School at Western University in Canada), and is establishing Canadian benchmark data for workplace wellness program’s ROI.  Initial results show a correlation of workplace wellness programs to a reduced absenteeism rate of 1.5 days/employee.  That is savings of more than $250/employee.  They also show improved health behaviours of employees, which is a leading risk factor for illness and disability.  The ROI results haven’t been released, but the study has confirmed the following key components needed for successful wellness programs :

  • Leadership commitment to health and wellness.
  • Policies and practices reflecting a culture of health and wellness.
  • Ongoing assessment and evaluation of the program and of employee health.
  • Programs developed according to priorities and designed to influence employee health behavior.
  • Communication focused on wellness and integrated with leadership and human resources.

There are many reasons to incorporate workplace wellness programs in your organizations strategy; but if you still need the know the ROI-  well, here you have it!

Diana Vissers is the Founder and Director of Corporate Services at Work to Wellness Rehabilitation Inc. – a Canadian company providing expert disability management services to Canadian customers. She is in the business of making your place of business healthy, safe and productive. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for the latest news and updates on health, wellness and integrated disability management.