Keep your wellness program on track

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:42 pm

Recently, “Business Week’s” cover featured the headline, “Get Healthy – Or Else.”  The cover story focused on Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. and their all-out attack on medical costs.

The magazine documented the company’s aggressive effort to control rising health care costs. The Wall Street Journal also prominently featured a recent article discussing how some companies are reaching out to healthy employees with their wellness plans.

These prominent stories demonstrate that wellness is now part of the mainstream of corporate benefits. In fact, the Society for Human Resource Management found that last year, 43 percent of companies provided some type of incentive to encourage healthy behavior.  Typical wellness programs encourage employees to participate in healthy behaviors such as weight management, exercise and other lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation programs. 

It is no surprise that these programs are making headlines. Rising health-care costs have been a burden to businesses small and large, and wellness programs have delivered real cost savings. Benefits managers will tell you that dollars spent on wellness programs are returned to the company in cost savings. According to the Wall Street Journal story, Pitney Bowes Inc., the office-equipment company, was able to save $2 to $3 in health care costs for every dollar spent on health-improvement programs. 

Yet as these programs mature, it is hard to replicate the results initially achieved when first launching a wellness program. For example, a company offering an incentive for employees to quit smoking may find some workers taking up smoking just to qualify for the award. Clearly, these are not the behaviors wellness programs mean to encourage.

So what can you do to make sure your company continues to get the most bang from your wellness buck? Here are some ideas.

1. Make health risk assessments easy –

Identifying at risk employees is one of the biggest benefits of wellness programs. Health risk assessments, an up-front health review that provides a baseline of each employee’s health status, are often able to help employees with dangerously high blood pressure or the early stages of diabetes get immediate attention before a problem becomes catastrophic and leads to high-cost emergency medical care.

2. Make employees part of the process –

Employees should welcome wellness programs and feel like they have a say. We encourage companies to establish a committee of key employees representing various parts of the company. These employees attend meetings and discuss the types of wellness programs that make sense based on the top risk factors that have been identified by the aggregate information gathered from their fellow employees’ health risk assessments.  When one of our clients found weight loss to be the biggest challenge, the employee committee implemented a “Biggest Loser” group weight loss effort.

3. Share the rewards –

We have encouraged companies to consider discounts on insurance premiums for participants in wellness programs. It may make sense to wait until a wellness plan has been established for a while before offering these types of rewards as it is important for employees to participate in the wellness programs to see the benefits of lifestyle changes. Some companies implement a health reimbursement account or health savings account at this point as well. Healthy employees end up with more money in their accounts. 

4. Pay employees for healthy habits –

Some companies are rewarding healthy individuals as well as those changing unhealthy lifestyles. The goal is to keep healthy employees that way in addition to providing an incentive for unhealthy employees to become healthy. For example, offer a gift card for everyone who participates in a healthy eating program or exercise program. 

5. Communicate the challenge –

Employees need to understand the costs associated with unhealthy behaviors. Sharing information about the costs of your health benefits, the cost of catastrophic health care, and money that can be saved by avoiding high costs procedures may help encourage lifestyle changes. 

Scott Schultz is the client relations manager at Burkwald & Associates Inc. in Pewaukee.

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