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The Real ROI of Employee Wellness Programs

By Medisys on January 09 2019 | Mental Wellness, News

Are your wellness programs optimized?

According to research, probably not. 

The popularity of employee wellness programs has skyrocketed over the past decade, the larger the organization, the more likely they are to offer wellness programming. The Society for Human Resource Management reports that about 80% of Canadian mid to large size employers offer some level of employee wellness services and/or information. Some reports suggest that 90% of employers with over 200 employees offer employee wellness programming in Canada.

With so many companies investing in workplace wellness, it should come as a surprise that only 30% of companies evaluate and measure how these programs are impacting the health and wellness of their employees1.  Even fewer assess the health needs of their employee population before deciding which wellness services to invest in. For instance, when it comes to the growing trend towards virtual healthcare — 24/7 access to medical professionals from anywhere in the world via a mobile device — 71% of Canadian employees are demanding it, yet only 9% of employers currently offer it2.

Not all wellness programs are created equal. With continuously mounting pressures on decision makers to demonstrate the business impact of their investments, it's especially important to partner with a wellness provider that delivers results that can be measured.

To determine the revenue impact of health and wellness programs, from onsite fitness and nutrition programs to virtual healthcare, you need to first understand how unhealthy employees impact the bottom line. It is estimated that nearly half of employers in Canada don’t consistently track employee absenteeism nor do they track the specific causes of individual absentee instances. Also, because most employers focus only on absenteeism when analyzing wellness program ROI, and neglect to account for the indirect and longer term costs associated with poor employee health, there is a tendency to underestimate such costs. Time away from work is a large part of the wellness ROI equation – particularly when looking at near term and direct costs. However, the longer term impacts of poor employee health are often larger than employers realize.

“The cost of recruiting and training replacement workers and the cumulative negative impact that unhealthy employees have on productivity, workplace injury risk, and employee morale far exceed the costs of absenteeism” explains Dr. Farrell Cahill, head of research at Medisys Health Group.

Cahill believes that the key to optimizing the ROI of wellness programs is building programs around employee health data obtained through programs such as biometric screens. “The majority of companies that seek to implement wellness programs are not given the right guidance on the collection of employee health metrics to track impact” explains Cahill. “Most wellness providers merely recommend employee health interventions on a consultative basis; very rarely do they execute the interventions onsite and then accurately monitor employee health outcomes over time,” says Cahill.


How much do unhealthy employees cost your business? Consider the stats below:

  • Canadian employees with two or more lifestyle risk factors (eg. being sedentary, being overweight or obese, smoking, or high alcohol intake) are absent 50% more often than those without the risk factors, and cost their employers 2-3 times more in health benefit costs3.
  • A typical smoker costs their employer over $4,000 per year (on an annualized average basis)4. Click here to learn more.
  • The number of days lost from work due to illness among individuals with diabetes can equate up to 78.5 days per year5 should complications arise.
  • Each year, employee absenteeism equates to an estimated $16 billion or more in direct lost revenue to Canadian employers6. Click here to learn more.
  • Employees returning to work after a significant illness are more than likely to require ergonomic support7.
  • The total cost of obesity alone to Canadian employers is about $1.3 billion per year8.   
  • Research demonstrates that there is a linear relationship between obesity and number of workers’ compensation claims, lost workdays, medical claims costs, and indemnity claims costs9.
  • Overweight and obese employees spend 35% on health services and 77% more on medications than their healthy weight counterparts.
Looking for easy-to-implement employee wellness solutions that help employees save time and improve productivity? Consider virtual care.

Most of us are well aware that early risk issue identification and early intervention improve health outcomes, and can even save our lives. Despite this, many Canadians admit to delaying or avoiding doctors visits for non-urgent health issues due to time constraints. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by IPSOS, 68% of Canadians surveyed reported having avoided or prolonged visiting a doctor when they were sick due to long wait times, the inability to book appointments outside of regular business hours, and similar barriers related to convenience. 

Technology is changing the way Canadian employees manage their health. With new virtual care mobile app services like Medisys On-Demand, employees and their family members can connect instantly with doctors and nurse practitioners via secure text and video chat from the convenience of their home or office. Virtual care enables employees to renew prescriptions, obtain specialist referrals or lab requisitions, and have health questions answered instantly any time of the day or night.  



Learn More About Virtual Care Services

Developing an employee wellness program that delivers sound and measurable returns is not as elusive as some may think. It’s just a matter of assessing the health issues, wants, and needs of your employee population and understanding the associated direct and indirect costs of these health issues to the organization. For example, employers with safety-sensitive work environments typically have different needs than those with office environments. This is because the safety performance of employees in safety-sensitive environments is a substantial cost driver for the organization and because safety performance is directly linked to employee health and quality of life.

Wellness programs come in all shapes and sizes. Some wellness programs are built around boosting employee activity during the work day – for example running corporate fitness challenges or giving employees access to standing desks, walking desks, corporate gyms, or onsite fitness classes. Whereas other programs are focused on encouraging healthy eating in the workplace – such as offering rewards to participate in corporate healthy eating challenges, outfitting cafeterias with salad bars and nutritious meal options, stocking vending machines with healthy snacks, or offering onsite dietitian coaching services and “lunch & learns”. The majority of wellness programs in place today, however, lack meaningful health outcome measures that enable employers to track and demonstrate return on investment over time.

Many newer wellness programs involve collecting annual employee health metrics through highly sensitive biometric screening tests and health risk assessment questionnaires; which can cost organizations as little as $75/employee annually. After the employee health data is collected and interpreted, employers receive anonymized aggregate reports with recommendations on how to address their employees’ key health issues. “Biometric screening data is important because it enables physicians to identify the root cause of health issues that may be impacting an organization” says Dr. Vivien Brown, VP of Medical Affairs at Medisys. “It’s important that wellness programs not only assist companies in better understanding their major risk factors, but also serve to address the root causes of these issues and then set clear and measurable objectives for employee health” adds Dr. Mike Wahl.

When it comes to workplace wellness, programs that address nutrition, fitness, medical, lifestyle, and psychological risk factors holistically tend to have the best outcomes. “Early interventions through targeted preventive health programs have been shown to alter employee behaviours and health outcomes, which minimize long-term costs”, says Wahl.  One area of employee health that is attracting increasing attention from wellness plan administrators is mental health and emotional wellbeing.

“Mental health is one of the most important components of a wellness program,” believes Wahl. “It’s important to assess your employee’s emotional wellbeing through health risk assessment questionnaires or other tools, and then incorporate wellness services that address these needs.”

“If I was to give only one piece of advice to employers who are interested in workplace wellness it would be get your employees moving,” adds Dr. Kathee Andrews, President of the Toronto Branch of The Federation of Medical Women of Canada, and family physician at Medisys. “The health benefits of regular exercise are endless – aiding in the prevention of everything from heart disease, to several forms of cancer, to dementia, to depression, and anything in between.  Whatever the activity – running, walking, golfing, or just moving around the office – just get your employees moving.”


Looking to implement onsite yoga, health lunch & learns, corporate weight management programs, or employee health challenges? Click here or on the button below to request a free quote. 



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Medisys is Canada's leading national provider of executive health benefits and employee wellness solutions. Try some of our FREE employee health resources: 


  1. Bosh, D., A new magazine for a new era in workplace health. (2007) http://www.benefitscanada.com/benefits/health-wellness/from-the-editor-8848
  2. Vivien Brown (2019), Medisys Health Group, How Virtual Care is Reshaping the Future of Canadian Benefits Programs, retrieved from https://blog.medisys.ca/virtual-care-canadian-healthcare
  3. Ontario, H.S., The business case for a healthy workplace, W.S.P. Services., Editor. 2011.
  4. Canada, C.B.o., Smoking and the bottom line: the costs of smoking in the workplace, C.B.o. Canada, Editor. 1997: Ottawa.
  5. Vamos, E.P., et al., Comorbid depression is associated with increased healthcare utilization and lost productivity in persons with diabetes: a large nationally representative Hungarian population survey. Psychosom Med, 2009. 71(5): p. 501-7.
  6. Canada, T.C.B.o., Missing in Action: Absenteeism Trends in Canadian Organizations. 2013. p. 11.
  7. Canadian_Breast_Cancer_Network, Breast Cancer: Economic Impact and Labour Force Re-Entry., C.B.C. Network, Editor. 2007.
  8. Scott, L., Is Health Promotion Coming Back in Style? Occupational Health Nurses Journal, 2007. 26(1): p. 18-19.
  9. Ostbye, T., J.M. Dement, and K.M. Krause, Obesity and workers' compensation: results from the Duke Health and Safety Surveillance System. Arch Intern Med, 2007. 167(8): p. 766-73.