Wellness programs will enhance productivity in 2009

A recession is not exactly catalyst for good health. Fear of the future causes stress. Stress leads to health problems, and when health problems infiltrate a company, productivity decreases.

That’s why so many companies are not only investing in employee wellness programs, they are also starting to increase incentives in order to boost participation and lower rising medical costs.

At Oconomowoc-based MSI General, some of the company’s wellness incentives include gift cards, personal training sessions, paid time off and the most lucrative reward for meeting the program goal – receiving a cost reduction on their 2009 health insurance premium.

“Employers have always looked at the return on their investment,” said wellness consultant Connie Roethel, a registered nurse who is the president of Complementary Health & Healing Partners in Mequon. “But now they are starting to see the other benefits, too. Their productivity is improved, their employees are healthier and happier, and this is a great benefit for hiring potential employees.”

Kelly Frank, administrative manager at MSI General, said that after just one year with a wellness program, she sees positive changes.

“It’s a buzz in the office. People are talking about it, there’s some friendly competition. It gets your mind off work and it gets people working together that maybe wouldn’t have worked together before,” Frank said.

Some of MSI General’s activities include a pedometer program where employees counted steps to earn points, outdoor adventures with families and adding a fitness room to the corporate office. Frank was surprised at the enthusiasm for the room and the minimal cost needed create it.

“We put out the request to build it, and we were thrilled at what people responded with. Most of it was donated from employees and subcontractors, their exercises and cardio equipment, weights, stability balls, a TV and their time to come and paint.”

Roethel believes team challenges and goals are crucial to wellness program success, but she also sees many companies turning to personalized health and lifestyle coaching to achieve results.

“Some issues like weight or smoking can be sensitive subjects, so the completely confidential, more personalized approach is very effective. A lifestyle coach guides, inspires and provides ongoing resources and accountability. The employees love that,” Roethel said.

Jessica Raddemann, executive director of the Wellness Council of Wisconsin, said her organization gained 127 new members in 2008, up from 95 in the year before. Raddemann said many of the newer members are offering better incentives for their employees. Along with those rewards, she says, the plans are becoming more sophisticated. Many have online resources available and offer ways to measure quantifiable outcomes to ensure investment return. 

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