Employee wellness is a popular business line for local agencies.

Employee wellness is a popular business line for local agencies.

As employee health becomes an increasingly important concern for employers, some are finding they can support their workforce while also supporting local nonprofits.

Just from the financial perspective, it's no wonder most companies consider their employees to be their greatest asset. Studies show it costs thousands of dollars to replace an employee-from $9,400 for a minimum-wage worker, to $40,000 for a nurse, to as much as $125,000 for an employee with a technology background.

As more consultants and companies get into the employee wellness business to keep the current workforce happy, healthy and on the job, a number of nonprofit groups have also taken up the task of helping employers with workforce fitness goals.

One is LifeCare Alliance, probably best known for its Meals-on-Wheels program. The organization offers a comprehensive program that President and CEO Chuck Gehring says is very effective. The program begins with biometric screenings and health risk assessments. Later, LifeCare employees return periodically to provide learning opportunities and to support employees' wellness goals.

"We'll do whatever the client wants, but our goal is for our program to be invasive," Gehring says. He notes that online questionnaires and periodic contests simply aren't effective when it comes to helping people change habits.

"The people who use those are the healthy people, and they do it to see just how healthy they are," he says. A more direct approach works better-one that engages the individual on a continual basis.

In the LifeCare program, this means periodic visits by a nurse and/or dietician, monitoring of existing health issues, and group opportunities like the lunch and learn, in which employees can socialize while receiving helpful strategies to master stress relief, healthy eating and smart holiday behaviors.

The YMCA of Central Ohio offers similar challenges to make wellness fun and exciting and works with more than 50 local companies at a given time, says YMCA Corporate Wellness Director Christopher Haverlock. He says the YMCA offers free consultations to companies and then creates custom plans to fit their needs at a reasonable price. "When working with the YMCA, money simply travels through us and back into the community. Employers who partner with the Y receive expert wellness support and benefit from the positive impact they are contributing to in the community," he adds.

Haverlock says placing a fun challenge squarely in people's path can have a huge impact on a corporation's overall physical health. "In fact, more than 85 percent of participants reach and exceed their goals," he says.

Part of the success comes from being in the participants' hip pockets at all times, through the use of technology. "The mobile-friendly tracking app gives participants the ability to track activity, healthy eating, social activity and, in the spirit of the Y, doing good for others," Haverlock says.

People with jobs are people who are busy, and many Americans do not schedule time for exercise. The YMCA's partner employee membership plan gives workers access to YMCA facilities, which include tracks, basketball and racquetball courts, pools, traditional gym equipment, fitness classes and more.

The YMCA also operates on-site fitness centers for a number of its clients. "Here, we provide employees direct services like group exercise and one-on-one wellness coaching, while also working with leadership to advance a culture of wellness throughout the workplace," Haverlock says.

With the current rate of population growth, Gehring says it is imperative that people become healthier, or there won't be enough medical care to go around. Gehring's hope is that if people learn healthy habits when they are 40, they might not need these services when they are 80.

LifeCare's list of clients has grown 50 percent since 2010, and Gehring expects it will grow another 50 percent by 2020.

Companies that implement wellness practices realize a healthy return on their investment, according to both Haverlock and Gehring.

"When companies care about well-being, employees are more likely to produce higher quality work and are less likely to get sick, change jobs, or be injured while at work," Haverlock says. Not only do existing employees perform better, a company with a wellness focus becomes more attractive to talented new recruits, he says.

State Auto contracts with the YMCA to motivate employees toward personal health goals.

"We offer as many opportunities as we can to participate in wellness-related events," says Diane Dierna-Smith, director of State Auto's employee wellness effort, Total Rewards. Opportunities include newsletters, blogs, lunch and learn events, charity walks and runs, walking clubs, fitness classes, weight-loss competitions, walking meetings and more. Dierna-Smith says she and her colleagues will try anything to spotlight wellness for staff.

"Just a few true success stories in a year go a long way," she says. "We share these success stories with other associates, which really builds excitement and momentum."

"All aspects of associate well-being benefit from our wellness initiatives, and this goes way beyond health expenses," Dierna-Smith says.

"Because we spend so much time together, we influence each other," she says. "These healthy habits get shared and even taken home."

"It's important to invest in a healthy workforce," Dierna-Smith adds. "From food to fitness, there are countless opportunities for employers to promote healthier lifestyles. We've worked closely with the YMCA for years to offer wellness programs that are relevant to our associates. It's a partnership that's worked, for State Auto and our associates."

A culture of wellness can impact a business in a number of ways, Gehring agrees. For example, stronger, healthier employees have a lower incidence of slips and falls, meaning that costs due to workers' comp claims are lower, he says.

A healthier workforce also serves to protect employers against major claims like heart attacks and cancer, which can easily run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. In companies without wellness programs, major claims generally make up greater than 50 percent of healthcare spending. In companies that have implemented wellness efforts, those costs drop to less than 25 percent. Even keeping one person from suffering a major illness can make a big difference to a company's bottom line.

In an era when many companies are experiencing skyrocketing healthcare costs, Gehring says those that make wellness a priority are seeing zero growth, and in some cases, shrinking costs.

Gehring adds companies can do the math and anticipate what their savings will be, but some invisible benefits will be more difficult to calculate. A little employee goodwill goes a long way.

"Generally, employees are really grateful to the employer for offering this program at work," Gehring says. "They really feel that the employers are giving them another benefit."

"It's a win-win-win situation," he says. "There's no one that doesn't win."

Kristin Campbell is a freelance writer.