Employee wellness Featured

12:59pm EDT May 25, 2006
An employee wellness program is a comprehensive program that helps a company’s employees make healthy choices while at work.

A well-run program will provide health and medical education, nutrition information, physical activity to teach prevention of injury at work and to lead a healthy lifestyle. It will also save on the insurance premiums the employer has to pay and typically will reduce absenteeism.

Smart Business interviewed Thomas “Tim” Stover at the Akron General Medical Center about the ins and outs of a well-run program. Alexis Adams, AGMC’s wellness manager, provided details, too. We started with the basics:

Why should a corporation get involved in wellness programs?
The average annual health care costs for adults who are obese are 35 percent higher than for individuals of normal weight. People spend an average of 45 hours a week at work. That means the majority of time a person is awake, they are in a work situation.

Employees who are closer to their ideal weight miss fewer days of work than those who are overweight. Loss of productivity, time off, ineffective work, wasted time due to fatigue are factors to consider when instituting a wellness program.

Where does a company start? In the executive suite, where jobs are more sedentary, or with the labor and hourly workers whose work is more physical?

Executive physical programs not only provide a comprehensive testing and physical to local employer executives, but also include education on proper nutrition, exercise and alternatives to dangerous lifestyle habits.

What is involved in an initial screening?
An initial screening should include a thorough health risk assessment, cholesterol screening, body fat analysis, dietary analysis and an exercise test of some kind.

Later, a company might want to get involved in other areas like glucose screenings, ergonomics and work injury prevention, group personal training, health fairs, nutrition counseling, stress management, team-building exercises and wellness retreat days.

How much time is required? What is the cost?
Time involved varies to the extent of the investment in the program and what goals are to be obtained through the wellness program. The costs can be minimal per employee.

Some companies use programs like ours to come in at lunch time to show proper nutrition planning. This is done with in-house nutritionists through cooking and meal preparation classes.

Should an employer expect a program to come to the office park, or do employee/participants have to go to a health care center?
A program can take place at the work site or off campus. In either case, it can be specifically designed to meet the requirements of the company and its employees.

How often does a participant go back for additional screenings? Is this on company time or on the employee’s time?
Normally, screenings are held on company time. However, if follow-up is needed, this is usually on employee time. If the company sets up a program with annual screenings, it would be able to give data on how the program was proceeding from year to year.

Does insurance help cover the costs? Aren’t most health insurance programs geared to covering expenses incurred for illness rather than for preventive programs?
The insurance coverage is very early in paying for prevention and/or wellness programs. Their payment systems are designed to pay for illness, injury and rehabilitation but not for the prevention of the same.

Do the new HSAs (health service agreements) mesh better with the employee wellness concept than traditional insurance? What’s the strategy here?
HSAs do mesh with wellness. As employees start to invest more financial resources into these accounts, a good wellness program drives the workers toward not spending the invested monies. Keep in mind that wellness is free. Then the money comes back to the employee.

Can you point to one or two successful corporate programs where the company got a break in its insurance premiums or reduced absenteeism?
Local companies we help in employee wellness are Gojo, Sterling and DRB Enterprise. We have an employee walking program at the hospital focused on lifestyle change to improve heath.

Are most employees willing to change their lifestyles? What kinds of incentives work?
Among the biggest incentives are lower family premiums for health insurance. This is a great incentive to get in shape and stay well. Smoking cessation alone by our nation’s employees would take approximately $8 billion out of our nation’s health care costs.

THOMAS “TIM” STOVER hosts the Akron General Good Health Radio Hour. He is the medical director of Akron General’s Health and Wellness Center and the Care Management Program at Akron General Medical Center. Reach him at (330) 344-1099 or tstover@agmc.org.