Human resources and health experts quarrel about the actual return on investment for wellness programs. A 2015 study from the Society for Human Resource Management showed that two-thirds of survey respondents view their initiatives as somewhat effective or very effective in reducing costs. On the other hand, a report from the Health Enhancement Research Organization found that average gross savings ring out to around 99 cents per employee per month, while the costs could total around $1.50. Beyond real savings, these operators found that health initiatives could engage and invigorate employees not only in their health but also in their careers.
1. Incentive-based challenges
This summer, the dining staff at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., took an eight-week health challenge. Instead of force-feeding a singular goal to everyone on the team, employees signed up for a bouquet of challenges—such as drinking more water, increasing activity or reducing screen time—and self-reported their successes. Staff members who met their weekly goals were entered into a raffle for Fitbits, NutriBullets, cookbooks and rec center memberships. “The challenge culminated in a training day at our Mountain Campus, so we did a lot of hiking and gave out infused water bottles to everyone,” says Lori Vanagunas, the university’s training and orientation manager for dining services. Vanagunas says the wellness program is viewed more as a staff appreciation program that helps staff get excited for the school year.
2. Authentic collaborations
The dining and nutrition team at UW Health in Madison, Wisc., approaches health through exploring new cuisines. Culinary services highlights two different regions each month. “We’re trying to encourage individuals to explore new cuisine and get people to think about how they can use spices and herbs in order to flavor our foods instead of salt and fats,” says Amy Mihm, clinical nutrition specialist focusing on health promotion at the hospital. Most of the dishes showcased in the program are authentic family recipes from UW Health’s very diverse dining employees, who become the champions of the program. Mihm says the personal aspect of the program motivates staff to share and engage.
3. Eating education
At Ocean Spray headquarters in Middleborough, Mass., the Unidine-run operation adopted the grower-owned cooperative and juice purveyor’s Fit For Life wellness initiative. But first, Ocean Spray gave the team nutrition training, so that they can carry out the brand and become more knowledgeable for guests.
4. Take a hint from commercial
Tupelo Honey Cafe based in Asheville, N.C., pays the costs to compete in a 5K race, and staff members who submit the best times or distances win prizes, such as wearable activity trackers. Tupelo runs several other wellness goals throughout the year, selected with input from employees. Caroline Skinner, vice president of human resources for the chain, says the program helps staff buy into the brand, and in turn, provide better service to customers.