Employers Welcome Workplace Wellness
As recently as a few years ago, typical health programs at work meant a few training
videos on proper lifting or machine safety, and an annual distribution of flu shots.
Today, workplace wellness is a term with multiple definitions and whose depth of
meaning continues to evolve as healthcare costs keep rising for employers.
In 2006, employer premiums for medical coverage increased by 7.7%, which is two times
the rate of inflation. The annual premium for an employee's family plan is nearly
$11,500, and for a single person, $4,200. The costs are only expected to rise.
Absenteeism can cost large employers between $850,000 and $1 million.
In addition to these hard costs, there are soft costs that must be taken into account.
Presenteeism is the complement to absenteeism, but it is not directly reported. Unlike
absenteeism, employees show up to work, but their productivity is diminished because
of their own, or family members', medical or personal issues.
Presenteeism accounts for 61% of employees' loss of productivity and medical costs,
totalling up to $2,000 per year, per employee.
This rising cost of providing adequate care is cutting into the bottom line and causing
the C-suite to review medical costs and take a more proactive role in addressing the
underlying issue of the physical condition of the individual employees. The proactive
organization now looks to engage employees at all levels, in a comprehensive and
appealing program, that will result in healthier employees and lower medical costs.
Traditionally, only 20% of employees have chronic conditions or are considered "at-risk
employees," and therefore generate 80% of the medical costs. While it seems that
addressing this 20% higher risk group would be the obvious solution, it is actually just
as important to engage the 80% and keep them on the healthy side of the equation.
Elements of a comprehensive initiative should include a Health Risk Assessment (HRA),
personal coaching, educational resources, various tools to facilitate progress,
incentives, tracking and reporting.
A comprehensive health risk assessment should include lifestyle issues, personal and
family medical history, symptoms, and quality of life. The employee's personal concerns,
such as weight loss or smoking cessation, provide the motivation to participate. In some
cases, particularly with executives, the HRA can include a physical exam and lab reports.
Immediately, within minutes of the HRA if possible, the engagement with the employee must
begin. Ideally, employees are assigned a professional coach who will work with the employee
to set up goals and a plan of action to reach the goals. Employees also need to be offered
educational resources, such as an online portal with nutrition, exercises, and disease care
information. Employers and employees benefit from onsite fitness facilities and nutritious
options in the onsite cafes or vending machines.
A comprehensive program also must have incentives to encourage and reward long-term behavior
change. These incentives can come in many forms, from point-based for prizes to department
or company-wide "well" days.
Although health care costs continue to rise for employers, engaging employees in
comprehensive workplace wellness programs can proactively decrease health care costs and
Wellness Incentive Programs