Workplace Wellness Programs Offer both Physical and Mental Benefits

More and more companies are offering workplace wellness programs for their employees, and for good reason: it’s a cost-effective way for employers to improve productivity and reduce employee sick time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that for every $1 companies invest in a workplace wellness program, they’ll receive $3-$6 returned in the form of lower health costs.

By encouraging employees to eat right and exercise, employers can reap significant cost-savings benefits. After all, employees who succumb to illness and disease are often forced to take time off work, which reduces their productivity and ultimately hurts the company. However, a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has linked workplace wellness programs to both physical and mental health benefits.

UCLA researchers Natacha Emerson, Kelly Shedd and Robert Bilder analyzed data from 281 men and women who participated in the Bruin Health Improvement Program. This program began in 2010 and is available for all school employees. It follows a similar approach as cross-fit, featuring cardiovascular and strength training workout sessions.

Throughout the course of the 12-week study, participants were asked to report their levels of emotional stress based. At the end of the study period, participants had reported a 19% improvement in their emotional stress levels. Therefore, researchers concluded that workplace wellness programs are an effective way to improve not only employees’ physical health, but their mental health as well.

“This was the first study of a workplace wellness program that showed a clear link between improvement in physical health and improvements in mental health, quality of life, stress, and energy,” said Dr. David Merrill, one of the study’s co-authors. “Participants reported improved feelings of calm, social satisfaction, ability to cope with stress, and an overall sense of well-being. They also reported improvement in their energy levels and better productivity at work.

So, how exactly do you create a workplace wellness program? According to Healthy People 2010, an effective program consists of five basic elements:

  1. Health education — training and educational resources intended to help employees make better decisions.
  2. Supportive social and physical environment — encourages a social and physically active environment both in and out of the workplace.
  3. Integration of the program into the organization’s core structure — a workplace wellness program should be a part of the company’s values.
  4. Connecting to other health and wellness programs — offer resources on other programs of similar nature.
  5. Worksite health screening for employees — free health screening services for employees.

This study was published in the journal Occupational Medicine.