Holy Wellness, Batman! Five factors for workplace success

Holy Wellness, Batman! Five factors for workplace success

Annual premiums for employer-sponsored health plans increased by 4% in 2013 hitting a new high of $16,351 for family coverage. Of that amount, employers paid $11,786 (72%) and employees paid $4,565 (28%) according to the Kaiser Family Foundation 2013 Employer Health Benefits Survey.

Even though the average increase was lower than in many previous years, the fact remains that employers are still on the hook for a cost over which they feel little control. However, by addressing the underlying cause of ill-health; employers and employees can impact the second highest line item in the operating budget and paycheck deduction: health insurance.

There are five factors in the success of a workplace wellness program, according to a Rand Corporation research study conducted for the U.S. Department of Labor. The Workplace Wellness Programs Study included only employers with more than 50 employees who had well-established wellness programs.

1) Effective communications with employees from organizational leaders.

2) Convenient and easily accessible wellness activities for employees.

3) Leadership at every level needs to make wellness a cultural imperative.

4) Involve internal and insurance carrier resources to expand access and offerings.

5) Persistence in getting feedback from employees to improve programming.

Offering financial incentives was found to be essential to secure initial employee participation. The data suggests that incentives greater than $50 were most successful in getting employees to complete a health risk assessment (HRA). In most cases, employers then focused on smoking cessation and exercise. There appeared to be some reticence to tackle the emotionally charged areas of weight or disease management despite their correlation to high health costs.

In conclusion, the Rand report stated the following: “Consistent with prior research, we find that lifestyle management interventions as part of workplace wellness programs can reduce risk factors, such as smoking, and increase healthy behaviors, such as exercise. We find that these effects are sustainable over time and clinically meaningful. This result is of critical importance, as it confirms that workplace wellness programs can help contain the current epidemic of lifestyle-related diseases, the main driver of premature morbidity and mortality as well as health care cost in the United States.

“…there is reason to believe that a reduction in direct medical costs would materialize if employees continued to participate in a wellness program.”

A prime example here in Maine is a major construction firm that asked their insurance company to estimate what the company would be spending for health services in ten years. Health care spending on services, said the insurer, would increase by $17 million over a decade. The employer introduced a wellness program that included incentives, individual coaching and visible leadership. After ten years, the company was spending approximately $10 million LESS than projected.

When employers insist on safety in the workplace, insurance premiums are reduced because you have fewer work-related injuries. The same should be true for wellness. Preventive care + wellness = fewer and less costly health care claims.

In both cases, change occurs because leadership sends a consistent message that the well-being of employees is of greatest value.

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