Worthwhile investment

Editor’s note: For additional coverage about Milwaukee’s Well City designation, see ‘Well City documents outcomes in workplace wellness’

Milwaukee will be awarded the Well City Designation. We will be the largest American city to receive this designation.

This award is the result of an initiative started in 2007 by a number of dedicated individuals who founded Well City Milwaukee. Thirty companies committed to this 36-month project, and in early March of this year, a list of 34 designated Well Workplaces, which comprised 25 percent of the workers in the city of Milwaukee were submitted to the Wellness Councils of America.
When having lunch with Arvid “Dick” Tillmar, the co-chair of Well City Milwaukee and the owner of Tillmar Connect, LLC, I posed a number of questions about this initiative.

How does this wellness program work?

Since the biggest portion of the health care dollars, over 75 percent, are spent on chronic diseases, a wellness program is designed to reduce the risk factors associated with those conditions. As the gangster Willie Sutton responded when asked why he robbed banks, “That is where the money is.”
What are the chronic diseases?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) has identified a number of conditions as chronic. They are diabetes, obesity, asthma, high blood pressure and cardiac related disorders.

How does a company get a wellness program started?

You need to contact a hospital, your insurance carrier or a third party organization to assist you with the completion of a “health risk assessment” for your employees. A complete listing of organizations that could assist you is available on the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) web site. A report will be generated that aggregates the results for the entire company. Individuals will receive their own confidential reports. As part of the assessment process, each employee will have a blood sample drawn to determine certain blood based risk factors and have individual coaching made available. The cost of this robust program is around $200 per employee, per year, a cost that will be easily offset by the benefits I referred to earlier.

What does a company do with the results of the risk assessment?

The risk assessment will provide a profile of your workforce and the risk factors that are shared among your employees. This will permit you and your insurance carrier to zero in on the factors that lead to chronic illness. Programs on proper nutrition, stress management and exercise could be developed, which will provide tools for your employees that assist in reducing these risk factors. Individual companies can elect to sponsor their employees for charity runs, bike rides, and walks. Some companies have brought in nutritionists to demonstrate food preparation techniques that support diets low in salt, sugar and fat, which reduce the potential for several chronic diseases and results in weight reduction if combined with exercise.
Other companies provide exercise classes, subsidize fitness memberships and even revamp the menus in the employee cafeterias to support their wellness programs. One company has gone as far as to increase the prices of the foods that do not promote a healthy diet and reduce the price of the ones that do.

What does this program mean for the small businessperson?

It means that by being socially responsible to your community and employees you can improve the health of your company.

What benefits will my company derive from joining this initiative?

A number of studies have shown that companies that have wellness programs see reduced employee turnover, a reduction in absenteeism, a lowering of workers compensation costs, and a reduction in the use of paid and unpaid sick leave.

An example of a successful wellness program

Adopting a wellness program is a cultural change, one that does not happen overnight. Here is a recent example of the impact of a wellness program on a company and its employees.
The American Cast Iron Pipe Company (ACIPCO) of Birmingham, Alabama was recently awarded the APA’s 2010 Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award. They are a 100-year-old company and have been known for their model health and safety programs. This company has built a center for wellness that houses staff offices, an exercise room, an aerobics room, and a physical rehabilitation clinic. This facility is supported by onsite staff who even visits employees at their locations throughout the plant.
What has ACIPCO realized as a result of their wellness program? The results are dramatic. For every dollar invested, they have received two back. More than 320 employees have quit smoking, 1,200 have begun an exercise program, and 600 have lowered their blood pressure to within normal limits. The diabetes education program has saved the company more than $4 million dollars by reducing health risks. In addition, the company’s physical therapy and rehab services have saved ACIPCO about $175,000 annually. A recent employee survey found that 94 percent reported they were satisfied with their jobs and 70 percent stated that they were managing stress effectively. All of these initiatives have resulted in a culture of trust, where there is loyalty from both employees and customers.
Recently a study was completed by the World Economic Forum in partnership with Right Management (a Manpower Inc. company) titled “The Wellness Imperative, Creating More Effective Organizations.” According to employees, when health and well being are actively promoted: organizations are seen as 2.5 times more likely to be a best performer, organizations are seen as 3 times more likely to be productive, employees are 8 times more likely to be engaged, organizations are seen as 3.5 times more likely to encourage creativity and innovation and organizations are seen as 4 times less likely to lose talent within the next year. This independent study supports the ACIPCO findings and demonstrates that there are long-term benefits to a wellness program.
The small businessperson has the same opportunities to achieve these results as does the large company. All you need to do is to take the first step, go to the Well City Milwaukee web page and join in the Well Workplace initiative.

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