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Wellness in the workplace

Daniel Ward //May 1, 2013//

Wellness in the workplace

Daniel Ward //May 1, 2013//

Oakwood Homes, Prologis, ViaSat and other Colorado companies are offering employees innovative corporate wellness benefits. Their aim is to battle rising health care costs by giving employees resources for improved health and productivity. But are corporate wellness programs good investments for employers?

Keeping your workforce healthy accomplishes two critical goals: improving worker productivity and containing the rise in employer health care costs.

Oakwood Homes and ViaSat expand wellness offerings

Oakwood Homes continues to expand its award-winning wellness offerings with onsite fitness classes and weight loss challenges that support its corporate goals of increasing physical activity and building teamwork. Sierra Henderson, HR generalist with the organization, says the fitness challenges have fostered solidarity and have helped employees accomplish personal fitness or weight loss goals.

ViaSat is also engaging employees in continuous wellness initiatives and offering onsite classes. As a result, the company reports steady improvements in employee health and wellness, productivity and morale and teamwork.

“It’s been a huge success,” ViaSat’s Kristin Conlon says. “The onsite boot camp is one of the most popular employee programs in our Denver office.”

National trends: What employers are offering and why

Employee wellness programs are encouraged under the Affordable Care Act. Beginning in 2014, employers will be able to tie as much as 30 percent of an employee’s health insurance premium to them.

Nationwide, 64 percent of companies say they have a wellness strategy either fully or partially in place. Employers list reducing health care or insurance premium costs as the top reason for pursuing an employee wellness program. Improving worker productivity is the number two reason.

Employee participation and reaction

When employers offer corporate wellness programs, a nationwide average of 66 percent of employees participate. More than half of wellness program participants report that the benefits encourage them to work harder and perform better. In addition, 59 percent credit their participation in a wellness program with giving them more energy to be productive at work and 43 percent report missing fewer days of work because of their participation.

“It was life-changing; it has made our company more productive and has enhanced our employee’s lives,” says Zach McGuire, group president at MasTec. “The team had great success and two of our members lost over 50 pounds.”

McGuire initially offered a weight loss challenge and other wellness programs just for his executive team and then quickly expanded it to his entire company.

“If I could help one person live a healthier life, it is all worth it,” he says.

While wellness programs help improve employee health and productivity, employers should also view wellness as a recruitment and retention tool. Humana’s CEO recently predicted that corporations will increasingly use wellness offerings to differentiate themselves in recruiting. A growing number of employees (up from 40 percent to 45 percent) agree that an employer-sponsored wellness program would encourage them to stay in their current job.

Carrots and sticks: Rewards and consequences for employees

Employers are increasingly offering incentives that encourage employee participation. More than 80 percent of 800 large and mid-size American employers — representing more than seven million workers — now use some form of incentive to help employees become more aware of their health status.

Top methods to inspire participation in wellness programs include lower health insurance costs for those who participate, contributions to health savings accounts or health reimbursement accounts, and other financial incentives (money, gift cards, discounts).

Of those employers that offer incentives, 24 percent say they offer them for progress toward or attainment of acceptable ranges for blood pressure, body mass index, blood sugar and cholesterol. More than two-thirds say they are considering this approach in the next three to five years.

Conversely, 58 percent are planning to impose consequences on participants who do not take appropriate actions for improving their health. The idea has received increased attention after CVS Caremark’s announcement that it would fine employees who receive company-sponsored health insurance plans $600 for not participating in a wellness review.

Results and rationale

What’s the ROI for these programs? Is it tangible or intangible? Can it be measured in both the short-term and long-term?  Wellness programs are a fairly recent addition at most companies; however, some are already reporting specific results.

For example, Johnson & Johnson has seen savings of $600 per employee after offering employees financial incentives to complete a health profile and better understand how lifestyle factors affect their health status, and to participate in weight loss and maintenance programs.

Are these programs good investments for society at large? Kenneth Thorpe, chairman of The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, says these initiatives are critical weapons in the ongoing war against chronic disease and notes that 80 cents of every health care dollar spent in the U.S. goes toward chronic diseases. Thorpe makes an excellent point: maintaining a healthy workforce is both the right thing and the smart thing to do.