Wellness 2.0

As the health care landscape continues to evolve, more employers are being proactive by finding creative ways to help their employees invest in their own wellness, thereby limiting the costs of care.

“As we look at this impending challenge that’s coming on corporate America, whether you call it the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, every single business has the same business challenge today,” said Jerry Curtin, president and general manager of Cultivate, a new wellness-based venture launched by Standard Process of Palmyra. “It is the one time that you get every decade or so where every single business is dealing with the same challenge, which is, ‘How do I manage the future of this business given the changes with health care that are afoot?'”

More businesses, both large and small, are responding to that question by investing in robust and creative employee wellness programs.

Well City Milwaukee, a workplace wellness initiative led by the City of Milwaukee, the Greater Milwaukee Committee, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee and the Wellness Council of Wisconsin, launched in 2007. The program has doubled in size to include a coalition of 68 employers.

“We have 140,000 full-time employees in the Milwaukee area that are collectively employed by the 68 employers,” said Gail Bennett, director of Well City Milwaukee. “(That’s a) huge systems change for all these companies to commit to do this, but they did it and it shows how wellness is taking hold in our city.”

Bennett said the wellness programs of today are getting more sophisticated and continuously evolving to meet the latest health care challenges.

Dr. Diane Braza, chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Wauwatosa-based Medical College of Wisconsin – a Well City Milwaukee member and home of the Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program – said there are many benefits of a wellness program in the modern work environment. Things such as “workstation ergonomics, mental health, weight management, diet and nutrition management” allow the concept of wellness to transcend workplace into the home environment, she said.

“As a culture, we are less active, and ultimately, you have more issues,” she said. “Those are all things a wellness program at work can try to address.”

Braza said issues of “pressure loading on the spine” can be problematic when people are seated for long periods of time, and a condition called metabolic syndrome – a combination of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and elevated cholesterol – now affects roughly a third of the adult population.
Small things can make a big difference, she said, and building habits through a wellness at work program, such as the “wellness champions” the Medical College incorporates in its own practices, can “keep those concepts in front of you” and “make a big difference.”

While wellness programs continue to evolve to meet these concerns, the concept of wellness is evolving, as well.

Milwaukee-based Sosh, a social media services company that has doubled over the past year in both revenue and employees, has transformed its downtown workspace to accommodate the wellness of its staff.

All of the desks at Sosh are designed for flexibility, fitted with options for employees to stand up at workstations or sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair.

Michelle D’Attilio, president of Sosh, has an adjustable height treadmill desk in her office. There, she said, she walks an average of six miles a day, at 2 mph for three hours. After visiting Milwaukee during Young Professional Week, she said, Las Vegas-based Zappos chief executive officer Tony Hsieh – who has been an influence on Sosh and its approach to culture – purchased the same treadmill desk for himself.

Sosh also stocks its office refrigerator with healthy snacks. There’s a ping pong table in the office for employees to use, and a variety of other efforts aimed at improving overall mental health.

“The hope is that, during the day, we can reduce stress in the office, which then helps boost immune systems, which then leads to fewer sick days,” D’Attilio said. “The other piece of it is if they’re happier, they’re going to do better work. We’re all going to do better work. You have the energy to continue to do the work, and that shows in the final project that we put out for our clients, which helps us build our business.”

D’Attilio cites a changing attitude toward work in general, with the “old guard” nine-to-five schedule being less of a standard than before.

“In the past, we used to talk about a work-life balance,” D’Attilio said. “That’s going away. There’s not going to be this ‘work-life balance.’ People work at 10 at night and might have to do a personal thing at 10 in the morning. As employers, if we can figure out a way to help people mold those two together, it’s not a work-life balance, it’s a life balance, and work is a piece of that. I think that’s really where we’re going in the future. Helping people figure out how to merge the two so that they’re happy is key for employers.”

D’Attilio says other small businesses can duplicate the wellness best practices Sosh is deploying.
“What we try to do is give (our employees) some options – what can we do that fits into everyone’s life that makes sense?” she said. “It’s really trying to think creatively and how to give them the options to do what makes sense for them. It’s doable (for a small company). It’s just a matter of thinking outside the box.”

Chiropractic solutions

Cultivate by Standard Process is another company that resides outside the traditional wellness box. The new business provides on-site chiropractic professionals for workplaces and a robust wellness program that has been developed in-house for more than a decade.

“About 12 years ago, a few employees came forward and said they wanted to start a walking program,” said Curtin, who was the head of human resources at Standard Process for several years before transitioning into this new role. “A few ladies decided to start walking at lunch, and it started to roll from there. Roll the tape forward 12 years, we’ve actually studied this wellness program and continued to evolve. We weren’t trying to go develop a business here. It was just a natural evolution of, ‘What is it that the employees want?’ And as we look at our results, after 10 years, (we) learned a lot about what didn’t work, but we learned a heck of a lot more about what did work.”

However, Curtin said Cultivate aims to find its niche by targeting the wellness space where insurance brokers and human resources professionals may not have the same expertise.

“(We want to) explain to business leaders that when you’re looking at wellness, whether it’s through the eyes of claims or employee satisfaction and things like that, realize that it actually has a strategy and it has many, many different variables to it if you want to be successful,” he said. “We would like to take an idea to the marketplace that says you get fantastic results when the resources are brought to your doorstep. That’s the on-site (part), and it’s scalable.”

An aspect of the new Cultivate business unit that stands out is its use of an on-site chiropractor.
“Chiropractors, unlike trainers or nutritionists, typically have a greater depth of knowledge about the human body,” Curtin said. “Having these professionals on-site brings an added level of trust and accountability to employees.”

Standard Process has successfully implemented one part-time and two full-time on-site chiropractor as a part of its own successful wellness plan, in which 97 percent of the company’s employees participate, in one way or another. Since 60 percent of those in the program had perfect attendance at work over a 10-year period, Curtin said, that level of participation and investment in the plan has produced results.

“(For) the people that have been in the wellness program for 10 years, health care claims are 45 percent less on an individual basis compared to those not in the program,” Curtin said. “Over the course of the last handful of years we’ve driven down, because of the wellness program, about $13,000 in expenditures per participant.

Though it is just launching this week, Cultivate by Standard Process is already working with new clients, including Lake Geneva-based Primex Wireless.

Manufacturers get creative

Two other manufacturers that have been innovating in the corporate wellness space are Milwaukee-based HellermannTyton and Glendale-based Strattec Security Corp. Both are members of Well City Milwaukee.

“We want to be considered an employer of choice,” said Tim Jarecki, director of human resources at HellermannTyton. “The more you can do for your employees, it makes you more attractive as an employer.”

HellermannTyton, which makes high-performance cable management solutions, has a dedicated Wellness Committee that meets on a monthly basis.

“Because our committee is made up of office employees and factory employees, we’ve been getting the pulse from both sides,” said Ellen Seefeldt, human resources administrative manager.

The company incorporates activities such as walking programs, a healthy foods policy, a free on-site flu clinic, incentivized physical exams through a rebate program, incentivized “health insurance scorecards,” a number of “Lunch and Learn” sessions on a variety of health and wellness-related topics, a new partnership with the Wisconsin Athletic Club and its new nearby Menomonee Falls facility, and several community events, such as the Hunger Task Force Food for Families campaign and various runs, walks and bike rides.

Seefeldt said the participation in the program has exceeded expectations.

Strattec has incorporated many innovative approaches to wellness in its business, as well, said Frank Krejci, president and chief executive officer.

Some newer features that have been implemented at Strattec include standup desks, a ping pong table, underwritten gym memberships, well-developed health risk assessments, wellness walks and a smoking cessation program.

“It’s very hard to put a return on investment on some of these things,” Krejci said. “You just have to do what feels right and what’s good for the employee and their family. I put numbers on a lot of things, but sometimes you just have to do what’s right.”

Another Well City Milwaukee member organization that has had a big impact on wellness in the Milwaukee area is Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, whose interest in employee wellness dates back to the 1980s and ’90s, said Patti Kneiser, vice president of employer services.
“We know employers pay about a quarter of national health expenditures, so they’re right to be actively involved, to be looking into health solutions,” Kneiser said. “It’s important to us as an employer and as a health system.”

More than 5,000 of Froedtert & the Medical College’s 9,000 employees participated in its wellness program in 2013, resulting in fewer individuals using tobacco and a reduced number of workers with elevated blood pressure.

Using its own “Wellness Works” program as a model offering, Froedtert works with 150 employers in the market, Kneiser said, ranging from small companies to large employers with more than 10,000 employees.

Kneiser said Froedtert has identified several important trends in wellness that are both “driven by market circumstances as well as supported by provisions in the ACA.”

One trend, she said, is increasing use of incentives.

“The Affordable Care Act has provisions in it for employers establishing wellness programs,” Kneiser said. “There were limitations in the amount of incentives for employees – at 20 percent. Now, it’s higher. What’s driving it, ultimately, is employers’ interest in better managing health and costs that they’re incurring.”

Other trends, she said, include more sophisticated analysis, such as having the capability to aggregate and analyze “big data,” more employers offering worksite health clinics, and generally, a much more sophisticated approach to wellness.

“(There’s an) emerging view of worksite wellness that’s much broader that encompasses a wide array of unique needs of an employer base, (which is) referred to as population health,” Kneiser said.
And the return on investment, she said, is significant, as high as a six-to-one return, according to research by the Harvard Business Review.

“In our own plan, we’ve demonstrated savings,” she said. “Most employers we work with look at return in a couple different areas. One is employee engagement and satisfaction as a retention tool. Two is actual clinical improvement, changes over time.”

“People spend the bulk of their waking time at work,” Kneiser said. “If you can provide an environment that provides better well-being and health…everybody wins in that equation.”

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Dan Shafer, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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