Can you afford a health and wellbeing program in your workplace?

Health and wellbeing programs make staff feel valued and positively impact on workplace culture. They help you to attract quality employees who value personal health and wellbeing and assist in retaining existing staff members. Rolling out a program has the potential to improve workplace culture as well as workplace health by developing a closer alignment between employer and employee values, which in turn increases employee satisfaction levels.

Strong evidence shows that a good employee health and wellbeing boosts an organisation’s health too.

I’m sure you have all read the evidence, but put simply:

Research on the relationship between health and productivity finds healthy workers are more productive at work than unhealthy workers. Healthy workers rate their work performance as much higher than unhealthy workers and have fewer unplanned absences that unhealthy workers. An Australian study found that the healthiest employees worked approximately 143 effective hours per month compared to 49 by the least healthy .
Chronic diseases in Australia are associated with one or more of the following lifestyle-related risk factors:

> unhealthy eating;
> physical inactivity;
> alcohol; and
> smoking.

The workplace can contribute to some of these risk factor, for instance, a sedentary work pattern and work-related stress. Work-related stress is becoming increasingly problematic in Australia. There is evidence of a 54% increase in mental stress claims as a proportion of all accepted claims by premium payers.

There is compelling evidence that there are real health related benefits for employees from health and wellbeing programs. For instance:

• Strong evidence that smoking cessation interventions directed towards individual smokers increase the likelihood smokers will quit.
• Strong evidence that multi-component interventions addressing physical activity and/or nutrition are effective in increasing physical activity levels, promoting healthy eating and preventing obesity.
• Interventions targeting physical activity are effective in preventing musculoskeletal disorders, such as low back pain.
• Measures addressing organisational culture are effective in improving musculoskeletal health.
• Interventions utilising a systems or comprehensive approach are effective in preventing and controlling job stress at an organisational level.

Protecting the health of workers is also becoming more critical as the workforce ages. In the Australian Public Service (APS) there has been a consistent long-term trend towards an older age profile, with increasing representation of workers over 45 years of age . Older workers are more likely to develop chronic diseases and disabilities and may be more vulnerable to the effects of workplace accidents. Therefore, as the workforce ages health and wellbeing initiatives that support older workers to remain in the workforce by reducing health risks and preventing or delaying the onset of chronic disease and disability are becoming more important.

How to develop your program

The key to developing a successful health and wellbeing framework, like any new program, is to consult widely with your workforce. You must ensure that there are opportunities and activities that all employees can participate in.
You can simply distribute a health and wellbeing survey, facilitate discussion groups or review your HR demographic data. In your survey ensure to ask questions such as:

 Do you smoke?
 Are you overweight?
 How much physical activity do you do?

A complete annual Health and Wellbeing program will cost on average $800 per employee per year. Examples of the initiatives should include:

1. Quit smoking
2. Training programs
3. Massage
4. Nutrition and wellbeing seminars
5. Team building programs
6. Skin checks
7. Flu shots
8. Alternate health programs such as iridology, reflexology and hypnosis (for weight loss)

Case Study

Here is an example of an initiative that is now in its 4th successful year at a medium sized NFP located in Sydney. This organisation sponsored employee entry into a fun run. Employees self-volunteered to participate.

The program included:
 8 week group training
 Personal nutritional program
 Personal training program
 Event entry fee

The group of 20 trained together one day a week for 8 weeks. The employees then chose a charity and funds were raised for that charity. Employees were then given the opportunity to present the funds raised to that charity. The whole exercise cost $180 per employee and a total cost of $3,600.
The result saw a measurable increase in cross department communication, employee engagement and the level of satisfaction with the benefits program. Personally, the team enjoyed a combined weight loss of 45 kg, increased energy levels and improved relationships with their colleagues. There was also zero absenteeism across the group for the duration of the program and their attendance is still well above the organisation’s average.

When developing a business case for your wellbeing program, focus on the return on investment. The following economic return for a workplace health program found on average programs:

 decrease sick leave absenteeism by 25.3%
 decrease worker’s compensation costs by 40.7%
 decrease disability management costs by 24.2%; and
 save $5.81 for every $1 invested

As we continue to compete for talent and face the challenges of chronic disease and an aging workforce, the question isn’t can you afford a health and wellbeing program, but can you afford not to.


1 Comcare 2010, Effective Health and Wellbeing Programs, 29 July 2011,
2 Cahill, K, Moher, M and Lancaster, T 2008, Workplace interventions for smoking cessation (Review), The Cochrane Collaboration, 29 July 2011,
3 Chau, J 2009, Evidence module: Workplace physical activity and nutrition interventions, Physical Activity Nutrition and Obesity Research Group, University of Sydney, 16 June 2011,
4 Maher, C.G 2000, ‘A systematic review of workplace interventions to prevent low back pain’, Australian Journal of Physiotherapy 2000, 46, pp.259-269, 29 July 2011,
5 Westgaard, R and Winkel, J 1997, ‘Ergonomics interventions research for improved musculoskeletal health: a critical review’, International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, 20(6), pp.463-500, cited in World Health Organization 2010, WHO Healthy Workplace Framework and Model: Background and Supporting Literature and Practice, 4 May 2011,
6 LaMontagne, A.D and Keegel, T.G 2010, What organisational/employer level interventions are effective for preventing and treating occupational stress? A Rapid Review for the Institute for Safety, Compensation & Recovery Research, 29 July 2011,
7 Mills, P 2005, The Vielife/IHPM Health and Performance Research Study, 1 July 2011,
8 Medibank Private 2005, The health of Australia’s workforce, 1 July 2011,
9 Peeters, A 2007, Research Summary: Disease Trends, VicHealth, 1 July 2011,
10 Comcare 2011, unpublished data.
11 Australian Public Service Commission 2010, State of the Service Report 09-10, 15 August 2011,
12 Chapman, L.S 2007, Proof Positive. An Analysis of the Cost Effectiveness of Worksite Wellness, Seattle: Chapman Institute, cited in HAPIA, Best-Practice Guidelines: Workplace Health in Australia, 15 July 2011,


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