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5 Compelling Reasons Why to Start Now

Companies that work hard to set themselves apart often attract and retain top talent by offering voluntary benefits such as health and wellness programs. Offering a voluntary health and wellness program can be very attractive to prospective employees as a self-improvement perk, as well as motivating to employees. However, they find the opt-in component to lack intimidation. The results of such programs go well beyond motivation and lead to real cost savings and tangible positive results on employee performance, long-term health, and subsequent company healthcare budget savings. Recent legislation, wellness program grants for small businesses, and potential healthcare insurance cost savings, has facilitated a recent rise of health and wellness programs.

Employers Can Shape a Healthier Workforce

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 65 percent of adults do not exercise regularly, half of all adults have high cholesterol, one out of every four adults has high blood pressure, and 30 percent are obese. These all-too-common health conditions can impact one’s ability to be highly functional, active, and productive in the workplace, but they also contribute to other chronic illnesses, which account for 75 percent of all healthcare costs in the United States .Many of these conditions can be prevented, or managed by participating in a mix of education, incentives, coaching, and success tracking offered in a health and wellness program.

In 2011, GiftCard Partners ran a survey to determine what percentage of employers included gift cards as voluntary workplace program incentives in general, as well as for participating in their health and wellness programs. They discovered that 80 percent of the respondents include gift cards as incentives and of those, 30 percent are offering gift cards as health and wellness program incentives. This is an impressive number of employers offering health and wellness programs as part of their voluntary benefits contributions.

What to Expect from your Health and Wellness Program

Many companies begin their health and wellness programs with offering employees a health risk assessment or biometric screening as a baseline for potential health and wellness improvements. Common factors in these programs include: promoting wellness, adapting the work environment for healthier conditions, health coaching and education, online tools and resources, nutrition and physical activity programs, tobacco cessation, weight management, injury prevention and ergonomics, substance abuse programs, and condition management—like high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, and mental health wellness. All of these important healthcare factors can be inadvertently shifted to the background of our minds when commuting schedules and working dominates our waking hours.

Employee health can be improved and company health care costs are often lowered via less utilization of health care services. Individual and team performance often improves and employee satisfaction can be effected, therefore retaining those employees who wish to improve their situations. The benefits of such programs include positive outcomes for the individual employee, the teams they work in, as well as for the company as a whole. One of our survey respondents, a hospital in Pennsylvania stated, “Our organization provides gift cards to employees for successfully completing our wellness initiatives. By offering the gift cards we have increased our participation from 15 percent to 39 percent in the first year.“
Enrollment and increasing participation over time can be a big challenge, but most want to know what their return on investment will be. Many wellness program vendors tout high ROI as part of their sales and marketing practices, so we look to non-profit organizations and those who provide truly objective studies and research for clarity on this topic. The National Institute for Health Care Reform cautions that realistically employers are most likely to break-even by the second or third year running their program, and should be ready to see “reasonable returns in the fourth and fifth years,” and ongoing from there.
On this type of tiered timetable, the Institute reports “an average of 3.27:1 return in the form of reduced medical costs over three years and 2.37:1 in reduced absenteeism costs over two years. Although reports on mature program ROIsvary, several experts suggested that the most effective programs—“the ones that do practically everything right”—might ultimately yield hard ROIs in a range between 1.25:1 and 4:1.”   According to the Centers for Disease Control, companies with wellness programs also tend to attract more talented employees, have better employee morale and experience, and less turnover.

How to Overcome Participation Obstacles

Financial incentives have been found as key to initial enrollment and continued participation in health and wellness programs, which help companies maximize their investment in the program. Starting off strong with hitting your participation goal is important but how will you continue to engage participants and increase your participant rate?

Gift cards, cash incentives, vacation or personal days, insurance premium contribution reductions, and health savings account contributions are amongst the most common forms of participation incentives. Gift cards such as merchant filtered cards, like the CVS SelectTM actually filter out purchases like cigarettes, alcohol and items that don’t support a healthy lifestyle. Other healthy gift card incentive choices include weight loss and weight control options, like Nutrisystem or healthy quick service food options, like SUBWAY. Regardless of the incentives you choose, they work to increase participation and maintain engagement over time for optimal results.

Other successful strategies include setting up teams, so “friendly peer pressure,” teamwork and a sense of competition play a part in ongoing enrollment. This could include wellness reminders posted around the office, email tips for a healthier workplace, paystub wellness reminders, and implementing a fast track component that rewards for fast results. Robert Pillar, President of  WellnessIncentivesPlus.com reminds us of the 80/20 rule: “Not everyone will participate in your program. Concentrate the bulk of your time and effort on those that are willing to make changes in their health, fitness and well-being.  Don’t ignore or forget about the 20 percent– but spend the majority of your time continuing to motivate and inspire them to make a difference in their lifestyles.  The other 20 percent may come aboard over time.”

How to Measure Results

Employers themselves need motivation to continually prompt enrollment and engagement in your program. You will need to see and report on results to be able to show return on investment, not immediately, but over the course of a few years after getting started. In her Corporate Wellness Programs 101 presentation, Denise J. Holland, Director, President of Inside Employee Wellness &Consulting directs employers to hone in on how to measure results by defining your company’s wellness philosophy. She asks: “What are your most important goals and improvement criteria? Medical costs only, absenteeism, preventative screenings, employee participation, lifestyle improvements…all of these?”

So what can real life health and wellness program results look like when matched to such focused criteria? Holland worked with a large manufacturing company with around 950 employees nationwide to develop their health and wellness program. They reported the following results from2008 through 2010:

–    Participation Increases

  • 2008: 78 percent / 2009:  78 percent  / 2010: 83 percent
  • Spouses:   2009:  35 percent / 2010:  49 percent

–    Health Improvements

  • 7.4 percent decrease in employees with high cholesterol
  • 8.2 percent decrease in employees with high blood pressure
  • 9 Employees quit smoking

–    Medical Cost Reductions

  • 2 percent reduction in year 1 of program
  • Year 2 – additional 2 percent reduction
  • Year 3 – increase in medical trend due to catastrophic cases
  • Improved medication adherence

The Thing Most Companies Don’t Get Right

Denise Holland’s more than ten years of setting up successful wellness education and employee benefit strategies offers her a unique perspective on what many companies do not get right when setting up their program.

From the very beginning, a program should be designed FOR the people, as she put it, “know thy employee.” Knowing key demographic data about the employees help match goals and incentives to their needs and wishes, garnering participation and engagement. Your insurance company or third-party administrator should provide key aggregate demographic data like how many employees have conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, as well as prevalent genders, average age, race, etc.

Regionally diverse companies have even more considerations in this area. These include the work habits and health trouble-spots for certain trades and job descriptions, as well as environmental issues inherent with any job.

Health and wellness programs not only lower employer health insurance costs via creating a healthier and more productive workforce, but current federal healthcare reform incentives could rise from the current 20 percent of total premiums to30 percent by 2014. This could perhaps rise as much as 50 percent in the future . The future for corporate health and wellness programs looks bright, and offering them as a voluntary benefit to employees might be just what the doctor ordered.

This article was written by Stacey Sicurella and published in Corporate Wellness Magazine

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