The development of a corporate wellness program can be a win-win-win, lowering health care costs, improving the collective health of your workforce and financially rewarding for employees who choose to participate.
The concept was explored during a workshop session held in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 as part of the 89th Annual Meeting of Western Growers. Two health professionals — Dr. Laura Clapper of Anthem Blue Cross Health and Dr. Tim Moore of WebMD — were joined by moderator David Zanze, who is president of WG’s Pinnacle Claims Management, at the workshop titled “Leveraging Wellness in the Workplace.”
Drs. Moore and Clapper laid out some of the advantages of adopting a wellness program as well as the outcomes that might be expected. However, they did say that establishing a program is a long-term strategy and tangible benefits might not be evident right off the bat. Dr. Moore said the first year should be considered an investment as employees are given incentives to participate.
According to these experts, the need is obvious. The concept is to get the workforce exercising and modifying risk factors that lead to more health claims and higher costs. Dr. Clapper said research shows that claims can be reduced by at least 20 percent when specific risk factors are targeted with a wellness program. Dr. Moore listed obesity and nutrition, tobacco use, an inactive or sedentary lifestyle and undue stress as four areas that can be positively influenced by a wellness program.
Other benefits from such a program include reduced absenteeism and increased “presentism.” Dr. Clapper explained that when an employee improves his or her health, the result is a more attentive worker during the work day.
A wellness program can take many shapes, but the basic premise is to engage workers in exercise and mitigating risk factors through teamwork and incentives. Dr. Moore said that communication is extremely important in running a successful program as surveys show that many employees don’t even know when their company has such a program. These two health experts recommend launching an effort with great fanfare and senior management participation.
Measuring progress is a very important element of any program, Moore said, quoting an oft-heard line, “if you can’t measure it, you shouldn’t do it.”
The experts gave several examples of incentives that employers use. Often it is the ability to win cash awards as participants reach goals. Research apparently indicates that while monetary incentives do work, for most employees, peer pressure and being involved in teamwork activities are just as important. They said being involved in such a program should in some way mirror the lessons learned in kindergarten: make it fun and upbeat, involve a lot of teaching and learning moments, role-model good behavior, encourage participation and make the activities fun just like it’s recess.
Dr. Moore continued to stress that creating awareness and personalizing the program are keys to gaining participants. It can be a great program, but if the employees do not know about it and are not actively encouraged to participate, it won’t be used.
Moore said while improved health, better nutrition and exercise are important elements of any program, reducing stress is equally important. In fact, research shows that one out of four doctor office visits are stress related.
Zanze from Western Growers reminded the audience that any firm who gets its insurance from Western Growers Assurance Trust already has a wellness program at its disposal as a group participant.
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