Wednesday, 26 May 2010 20:00

Creating a wellness program

Imagine an office where employees walk laps during lunch, their pedometers clipped to their waistbands. Imagine an office where employees snack on fruits and nuts rather than candy bars, drink water instead of another can of soda, and have managed to kick that pack-a-day habit.

Imagine an office where health and wellness are a priority.

Is this anything like your office? Perhaps it will be during the months and years to come.

There is little doubt that health and wellness are hot topics. Just turn on the television and watch reality shows about weight loss, or pick up a magazine and read the articles on wellness published recently in Time and The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Or turn your eyes to Washington, D.C., where President Barack Obama signed the health care reform legislation in late March.

Our parents are overweight. Our children are overweight. We are overweight. And as we work our way through the recession, our days are packed. We tend to eat poorly and not exercise, and our poor decisions are costing not only our bodies and our minds but also our health care costs and our office productivity. A wellness program just might help to turn the overwhelming tide of fat and frustration.

“A wellness strategy is really a subset of a human capital strategy,” says Paul Martino, vice president, health and wellness solutions, WellPoint Inc. “If an employer has a long-term horizon and views human capital in a particular way — that it’s valuable, that you want to retain your highly valuable and efficient people — you want to allow people to be at their job and functioning well.”

If you don’t have a program at your business, why should you install one now? If you do have a program, why should you aim to improve it? Well, plenty of research proves that healthier employees are more productive and actually cost you and your business less in total costs. And there is an impressive return on the investment, especially after a year or two.

But you have to plan and install the program first.

Take the first step

Are your employees overweight? Do they smoke? Not long ago, you would have been well within your rights to avoid the answers to those questions. If your employees worked hard and produced, who cared about their health? But after years of medical research, those are important and relevant questions. If the answer is yes, you’ll want to consider a wellness program.

The question you have to ask yourself, though, is why do you want to install a program?

There are no wrong answers, but if there is no why, the program will flounder.

“A one-size-fits-all wellness program is likely to not be cost-effective because a lot of the people won’t need so much intervention,” says Dr. William B. Stewart, medical director of the Institute for Health & Healing, California Pacific Medical Center. “Part of developing a successful wellness program relates to not overdelivering. There’s a low-risk group of people and there’s a high-risk group of people, and we do better if we recognize the difference between those groups and don’t overdeliver.”

If you and your executives don’t support the program from its first breath, neither will your employees. So take the time to work with a private company for you and your employees to take a health risk assessment and a biometric screening.

HRAs, which are often free online or cost between $5 and $25 per employee if performed in person, and biometric screenings, which cost between $50 and $150 per employee, highlight symptoms and conditions that might develop into larger problems in the future, both among individuals and your employee base as a whole. If you work with an outside company, the information will also be anonymous and in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Consider your employees

Because of the general complexity of HIPAA laws, you might be better off turning to an outside company to ensure that your wellness program remains in compliance.

No matter your choice, your employees do need to feel a sense of inclusion in —and perhaps even some sliver of ownership of — the program, so involve them as early as possible. Tell them about the program as you develop it, and if you build a wellness planning committee, make sure you bring in people from as many departments as possible and allow them to participate.

“There needs to be somebody in-house who is a champion,” Stewart says. “That doesn’t mean you have to do everything in-house, but I think it’s important to have somebody who will be both a cheerleader and a champion for this kind of work.”

A key to increased participation is to offer incentives, especially now as we continue to recover from the recession and every little bonus bears the glint of gold. Perhaps your employees would react to paid time off or reduced premium costs. Both are common incentives, according to a panel of more than two dozen industry experts.

“One of the critical pieces of success is to engage employees,” says Dr. Christopher H. Coulter, chief medical officer, Precept Group. “And it’s not enough to tell them that you want them to behave better or to have marketing materials. You have to show them what’s in it for them. People follow the money, and a structured incentive program will greatly enhance the participation rates and the success of the program.”

Monitor your results

The fruits of an effective wellness program will take time to develop and spread throughout your business. Give it a couple of months to notice the first signs of change, a year to really see an improvement and a couple of years to watch as the culture changes.

Over time, you can measure the collective pounds lost and the decrease in cholesterol and blood pressure levels. You can also measure the decreased rate of absenteeism because of injury or illness, improved productivity, and perhaps even lower figures for workers’ compensation claims and turnover rate.

The program might also pay for itself during that first year — thanks to employees being able to work more hours and to a possible decrease in health care costs — but you’ll likely have to wait until at least the second year to see any real positive return.

“An employer who could get a wellness program, in a traditional sense, to pay for itself in the first year or two would be a pretty good result,” Martino says.

When that change starts to filter in, you’ll likely see the average wellness program will be worth about $3 for every $1 you invest. Some experts say you can expect more than that — $5, $6 or even $8 for every $1 you invest. But $3 is a fair figure on which most experts agree.

“A wellness program isn’t like buying a good or a service in the marketplace,” Coulter says. “You’re not going to look at three and pick the one with the best price and move on to the next issue. A wellness program really only works where there is a high level of commitment that flows from senior management down.

“Companies that are successful at wellness programs end up adopting some of those metrics related to employee health, related to the impact of various health-promotion programs, as important business metrics.”

Published in Northern California
Wednesday, 26 May 2010 20:00

3 Questions

 

Barry Arbuckle is president and CEO of MemorialCare Health Systems, which has reported annual revenue of more than $1.6 billion. Under his leadership, MemorialCare has been recognized as one of the 100 Most Integrated Health Systems and Best Governed Hospital System. He is board chair of National Healthcare Services, MemorialCare’s for-profit arm that targets health care equity investments.

Q. How can businesses encourage employees to adopt healthy lifestyles?

It’s amazing how many simple things there are to get people to not only think about the immediate choice at hand but also to have them begin to think about their food choices or health care choices. One thing that impacted me, and such a simple thing, is at our cafeteria, there are signs that highlight the difference in calorie counts between two choices. Sometimes employees don’t know that one option is healthier than another.

Healthier choices in meetings and the cafeteria are critically important. It’s easy to fall back on old habits. I cringe when I walk into a presentation and people are eating pastries and bacon. More often than not, if you change the food that is offered, some people will raise an eyebrow, but they’ll still eat breakfast and you’ll start to change the way they think about their own food habits.

Q. How can businesses ensure their work force accepts health care that is offered?

Employers should feel free to use more of their local health care providers to help educate their employee population about the importance of health care coverage. It may be easier, working with those local providers, to have access to some of diagnostic screening and health screening.

Q. What’s the best way to start a low- to no-cost wellness program?

You could contract with a personal trainer to come in to a conference room and have yoga classes, stretching classes, to get people interested and take it from there. Tapping the local hospitals and clinics to bring in someone for screenings can also help to get people motivated. I’ve seen companies offer subsidies to join health clubs and fitness centers or give people a cheap pedometer to keep track of walking. All of those little things can help people start to focus on their health.

Published in Los Angeles
Wednesday, 26 May 2010 20:00

Creating a wellness program

Imagine an office where employees walk laps during lunch, their pedometers clipped to their waistbands, clicking off each step up and down the stairs and through the halls and around the cubicles. Imagine an office where employees snack on fruits and nuts rather than candy bars, where employees drink water instead of another can of soda, and where employees have managed to kick that pack-a-day habit.

Imagine an office where health and wellness are a priority.

Is this anything like your office? Perhaps it will be during the months and years to come.

There is little doubt that health and wellness are, if nothing else, a hot topic across the nation. Just turn on the television and watch a reality show about weight loss or any of what seems like a dozen syndicated talk shows where a photogenic doctor fields questions and concerns. Or pick up a magazine and read the features on wellness recently published in Time and The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Or just turn your eyes to Washington, D.C., where President Barack Obama signed the health care reform legislation in late March.

Our parents are overweight. Our children are overweight. We are overweight. And as we work our way through the recession, our days are packed. We tend to eat poorly and not exercise or even move nearly enough. We are in the dregs of a pandemic. All of our poor decisions are costing not only our bodies and our minds, but also our health care costs and our office productivity. A wellness program just might help to turn the overwhelming tide of fat and frustration.

“A wellness strategy is really a subset of a human capital strategy,” says Paul Martino, vice president, health and wellness solutions, WellPoint Inc. “I think if an employer has a long-term horizon and views human capital in a particular way — that it is valuable, that you want to retain your highly valuable and efficient people — you want to allow people to be at their job and functioning well.”

If you don’t have a program up and running — pun intended — at your business, why should you bother to install one now? Or if you do have a program, why should you aim to improve it as we continue to move through 2010? Well, because plenty of research proves that healthier employees are more productive and actually cost you and your business less in total costs. Oh, and there’s an impressive return on the investment, especially after a year or two.

But you have to plan and install the program first.

Take the first step

Are your employees overweight? Are they obese? Do they smoke? Not long ago, you would have been well within your rights to avoid the answers to any of those questions. If your employees worked hard and produced, who cared about their health? But after years of medical research, those are all important and relevant questions, and if the answer to any is yes, you will want to consider a wellness program.

But why do you want to install a wellness program?

There are no wrong answers, of course, but if there is no why, if there is no vision, the program will flounder.

“Do you want to build benefits? Or, as the management team, is your goal to affect claim costs? Is it a combination of the two?” says Sally L. Stephens, founder and president, Spectrum Health Systems, Indianapolis. “Senior management, or whoever initiates it, needs to ask what they want to accomplish by putting a wellness program in. Too many people think it’s a solution but don’t think through clearly what their goals are.”

And if you and your executives do not support the program from its first breath, neither will your employees, so take the time to work with a private company for you and your employees to take a health risk assessment and a biometric screening.

Those highlight symptoms and conditions that might develop into larger problems in the future, both among individuals and your employee base as a whole. If you work with an outside company, the information will also be anonymous and in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

“Some employees hesitate to give all their personal information to the insurance company,” Stephens says. “They don’t want the insurance companies to know they smoke or any of these other things. Working with a third-party provider ensures 100 percent confidentiality. They manage all the data, they manage the security, and the employer doesn’t have to worry about the data management.”

HRAs are often free, though if performed in person rather than on the Internet, they can cost between $5 and $25 per employee, depending on the quality and depth of the analysis. Biometric screenings typically cost anywhere between $50 and $150 per employee. You might also need to offer your employees an incentive, like a gift card or cash, for them to give their time to take the tests — because anything less than 70 to 80 percent participation leaves the results skewed and of less use for your business.

That cost might seem steep, but the information that is revealed can change your business. Do you want to know the overall health risk for your employees? Their weight and body mass index? Their exercise, nutrition and smoking habits? Even their levels of stress at work and at home? All of those figures are available and can help lay the groundwork for what you need to know to start a wellness program.

Consider an outside company — and your employees

When you have the results of the HRAs and screenings, you’ll want to work with your insurance company to perform an annual claims review. At that point, you’ll be able to plan for the installation of a wellness program.

But you might not want to keep that plan under your own roof.

Because of compliance regulations and the general complexity of HIPAA laws, you might be better off turning to an outside company to ensure that your burgeoning program remains legal. After all, you already work with a law firm to handle your legal matters, an accounting firm to handle your numbers and a bank to keep everything in order, so why not work with professionals when it comes to the literal health of your business?

“Running these programs is difficult,” says Michael Nadeau, president and chief executive officer, Viverae Inc., Dallas. “There’s a lot of work that goes into coordinating it and making it all happen. And it’s just as easy to coordinate a program for 1,000 employees as it is for 50 employees. That’s why the spend tends to be a little higher per employee for smaller companies.”

No matter your choice on that matter, your employees do need to feel a sense of inclusion in —and perhaps even some sliver of ownership of — the program, so involve them as early as possible. Tell them about the program as you develop it, and if you build a wellness planning committee, make sure you bring in people from as many departments as possible. And when the program is prepared to launch, make sure you pass along that information well in advance.

The key to increased participation is to offer an incentive, especially now as we continue to recover from recession and every little bonus bears the glint of gold. Perhaps your employees would react to paid time off or reduced premium costs. Both are common incentives, according to a panel of more than two dozen industry experts.

“You need to show someone you’re thinking about their health,” Nadeau says. “This is where you need to provide the right information at the right time and at the right frequency, because you need to have specific programs designed for a specific population.”

Monitor results and look forward

The fruits of an effective wellness program will take some time to devel op and spread throughout your business. Give it a couple of months to notice the first signs of change, a year to really see an improvement and a couple of years to watch as new habits spread from employee to employee.

Those new habits, of course, are part of the return on your investment. There are other intangible returns, too, including employee reports that they feel better and look better and now have a success story to tell their friends and family. But without hard numbers, all of those intangibles are nothing more than what one expert referred to as “warm fuzzies.”

Good thing a wellness program is far more than warm fuzzies. After a couple of months or a year or two, you can measure the collective pounds lost, the drop in body mass index, and the decrease in cholesterol and blood pressure levels. You can also measure the decreased rate of absenteeism because of injury or illness, improved productivity, and perhaps even lower figures for workers’ compensation claims and turnover rate.

“Where all the cost is in the system is for people who are at risk for either a chronic illness or acute episodes,” Martino says. “Those are the people who cost all the money, so if you point programs at them, it’s much easier to get a return on the investment. If you look at people who are your working well, generally about 80 percent of the population, those are the people who, because they aren’t sick and don’t have as high a risk for illness, they naturally have lower costs.”

And there are the dollar figures for the return on your investment. Those are as important as any number on any scale.

Similar to those first trips to the gym and those first months of the program, you should not expect to see any sort of large return during the first year or so. The program might pay for itself during that first year — thanks to employees being able to work more hours and to a possible decrease in health care costs — but you will likely have to wait until the second year, perhaps even early during the third year to see any real positive return.

“Improvements in health can take a little longer,” Stephens says. “But what we say an employer should expect is stabilization of their health care claims within three to five years — meaning their claims will trend below industry average, assuming they don’t have a lot of outliers like cancer or automobile accidents, things that a wellness program isn’t really going to impact.”

When that change starts to filter in, you might be surprised at what you see. Over time, the average wellness program will be worth about $3 toward your bottom line for every $1 you invest. Some experts say you can expect more than that, $5, $6 or even $8 for every $1 you invest. But $3 is a fair figure on which most experts agree.

“If you believe in the value of your human capital and you want to keep the people who are healthy now healthy in the future, then keep them engaged,” Martino says. “Keep them happy at work.”

Published in Detroit
Wednesday, 26 May 2010 20:00

Creating a wellness program

Imagine an office where employees walk laps during lunch, their pedometers clipped to their waistbands, clicking off each step up and down the stairs and through the halls and around the cubicles. Imagine an office where employees snack on fruits and nuts rather than candy bars, where employees drink water instead of another can of soda, and where employees have managed to kick that pack-a-day habit.

Imagine an office where health and wellness are a priority.

Is this anything like your office? It should be. Perhaps it will be during the months and years to come.

There is little doubt that health and wellness are, if nothing else, a hot topic across the nation. Just turn on the television and watch a reality show about weight loss or any of what seems like a dozen syndicated talk shows where a photogenic doctor fields questions and concerns. Or pick up a magazine and read the features on wellness recently published in Time and The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Or just turn your eyes to Washington, D.C., where President Barack Obama signed the health care reform legislation in late March.

Our parents are overweight. Our children are overweight. We are overweight. And as we work our way through the recession, our days are packed. We tend to eat poorly and not exercise or even move nearly enough. We are in the dregs of a pandemic. All of our poor decisions are costing not only our bodies and our minds but also our health care costs and our office productivity. A wellness program just might help to turn the overwhelming tide of fat and frustration.

“A wellness strategy is really a subset of a human capital strategy,” says Paul Martino, vice president, health and wellness solutions, WellPoint Inc. “I think if an employer has a long-term horizon and views human capital in a particular way — that it is valuable, that you want to retain your highly valuable and efficient people — you want to allow people to be at their job and functioning well.”

If you do not have a program up and running, pun intended, at your business, why should you bother to install one now? Or if you do have a program, why should you aim to improve it as we continue to move through 2010? Well, because plenty of research proves that healthier employees are more productive and actually cost you and your business less in total costs. Oh, and there is an impressive return on the investment, especially after a year or two.

But you have to plan and install the program first.

Take the first step

Are your employees overweight? Are they obese? Do they smoke? Not long ago, you would have been well within your rights to avoid the answers to any of those questions. If your employees worked hard and produced, who cared about their health? But after years of medical research, those are all important and relevant questions, and if the answer to any is yes, you will want to consider a wellness program.

But why do you want to install a wellness program?

There are no wrong answers, of course, but if there is no why, if there is no vision, the program will flounder. And if you and your executives do not support the program from its first breath, neither will your employees, so take the time to work with a private company for you and your employees to take a health risk assessment and a biometric screening.

“Our wellness program is the result of extensive external and internal research, including successful wellness practices inside our company and across the industry,” says Belva Denmark Tibbs, vice president of medical operations, Kaiser Permanente, Ohio region. “We also held a number of meetings with employees and physicians to understand their beliefs about health and healthy lifestyles.”

HRAs and biometric screenings highlight symptoms and conditions that might develop into larger problems in the future, both among individuals and your employee base as a whole. If you work with an outside company, the information will also be anonymous and in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

HRAs are often free, though if performed in person rather than on the Internet, they can cost between $5 and $25 per employee, depending on the quality and depth of the analysis. Biometric screenings typically cost anywhere between $50 and $150 per employee. You might also need to offer your employees an incentive, like a gift card or cash, for them to give their time to take the tests — because anything less than 70 to 80 percent participation leaves the results skewed and of less use for your business.

That cost might seem steep, but the information that is revealed can change your business. Do you want to know the overall health risk for your employees? Their weight and body mass index? Their exercise, nutrition and smoking habits? Even their levels of stress at work and at home? All those figures are available and can help lay the groundwork for what you need to know to start a wellness program.

Consider an outside company — and your employees

When you have the results of the HRAs and screenings, you’ll want to work with your insurance company to perform an annual claims review. At that point, you’ll be able to plan for the installation of a wellness program.

But you might not want to keep that plan under your own roof.

Because of compliance regulations and the general complexity of HIPAA laws, you might be better off turning to an outside company to ensure that your burgeoning program remains legal. After all, you already work with a law firm to handle your legal matters, an accounting firm to handle your numbers and a bank to keep everything in order, so why not work with professionals when it comes to the literal health of your business? Or at least allow your own human resources employees the opportunity to learn from the professionals in order to implement and run the program? Some larger companies take just that route.

“Since our wellness program is designed to improve the health, vitality and performance of our entire work force, the human resources department oversees the program,” Tibbs says.

No matter your choice on that matter, your employees do need to feel a sense of inclusion in —and perhaps even some sliver of ownership of — the program, so involve them as early as possible. Tell them about the program as you develop it, and if you build a wellness planning committee, make sure you bring in people from as many departments as possible. And when the program is prepared to launch, make sure you pass along that information well in advance.

“Effective communication can usually improve employee participation and awareness of these programs,” Martino says. “The way wellness and chronic care industries have grown up is by taking advantage of clinicians, nurses, exercise physiologists, health educators, dietitians. That has served the health and wellness industry well over the last decade.”

The key to increased participation is to offer an incentive, especially now as we continue to recover from recession and every little bonus bears the glint of gold. Perhaps your employees would react to paid time off or reduced premium costs. Both are common incentives, according to a panel of more than two dozen industry experts.

Monitor results and look forward

The fruits of an effective wellness program will take some time to develop and spread throughout your business. Just remember, when you start to work out or return to the gym, you don’t see a noticeable difference after one day, or even after one week or one month. A wellness program is a lot like that trip to gym. Give it a couple of months to notice the first signs of change, a year to really see an improvement and a couple of years to watch as new habits spread from employee to employee.

Those n ew habits, of course, are part of the return on your investment. There are other intangible returns, too, including employee reports that they feel better and look better and now have a success story to tell their friends and family. But without hard numbers, all of those intangibles are nothing more than what one expert referred to as “warm fuzzies.”

Good thing a wellness program is far more than warm fuzzies. After a couple of months or a year or two, you can measure the collective pounds lost, the drop in body mass index, and the decrease in cholesterol and blood pressure levels. You can also measure the decreased rate of absenteeism because of injury or illness, improved productivity, and perhaps even lower figures for workers’ compensation claims and turnover rate.

“Where all the cost is in the system is for people who are at risk for either a chronic illness or acute episodes,” Martino says. “Those are the people who cost all the money, so if you point programs at them, it’s much easier to get a return on the investment. If you look at people who are your working well, generally about 80 percent of the population, those are the people who, because they aren’t sick and don’t have as high a risk for illness, they naturally have lower costs.

“It’s harder to get a return on a program that is intended to serve the entire population. The working well, if they’re not managing their health correctly, will end up in one of the other groups. People who are moving toward more sedentary lifestyles as they get older, those things will lead to the chronic and acute problems.”

And there are the dollar figures for the return on your investment. Those are as important as any number on any scale.

Similar to those first trips to the gym and those first months of the program, you should not expect to see any sort of large return during the first year or so. The program might pay for itself during that first year — thanks to employees being able to work more hours and to a possible decrease in health care costs — but you will likely have to wait until the second year, perhaps even early during the third year to see any real positive return.

“An employer who could get a wellness program, in a traditional sense, to pay for itself in the first year or two would be a pretty good result,” Martino says.

When that change starts to filter in, you might be surprised at what you see. Over time, the average wellness program will be worth about $3 toward your bottom line for every $1 you invest. Some experts say you can expect more than that, $5, $6 or even $8 for every $1 you invest. But $3 is a fair figure on which most experts agree.

“If you believe in the value of your human capital and you want to keep the people who are healthy now healthy in the future, then keep them engaged,” Martino says. “Keep them happy at work.”

Published in Cleveland
Wednesday, 26 May 2010 20:00

3 Questions

 

Belva Denmark Tibbs has worked with Kaiser Permanente for 21 years and is the vice president of medical operations for Kaiser Permanente in the Ohio region. She is responsible for 1,200 employees, 11 facilities and a $160 million budget. Together with her physician partner, she is also responsible for providing quality care and service to more than 125,000 Ohio Permanente Medical Group members.

Q. How do you get employees to buy in to a health and wellness program?

We have employed multiple media to communicate the program, including e-mail, snail mail, voice mail, posters, Web site, newsletters and video. Employee buy-in requires a multiple-pronged approach, starting with visible involvement from the top leaders. As leaders, our support, participation and — most important — visible modeling of healthy behaviors are essential to moving the organization toward a healthy culture. Based on Dee Edington’s book, ‘Zero Trends: Health as a Serious Economic Strategy,’ we encourage everyone to start where you are. We ask employees to understand and maintain their current state of health and then make incremental improvements through a variety of activities.


Q. What are some effective ways to monitor for results?

In addition to monitoring the use of the Web site, number of interactions with the health coach and completion of the health risk assessment, we also track attendance records, utilization statistics and employee satisfaction survey results to determine the effectiveness of the program.


Q. How early can you expect to see a return on investment?

We expect to see sustainable results within the next three years. A recent report, ‘Building an Effective Health & Productivity Framework’ from Watson Wyatt states that: ‘Companies with the most effective health and productivity programs have superior financial returns and productivity improvements.’ Research also reflects that organizations can typically expect to see a return in a three- to five-year time frame. Most of the research has been based on large employers. A recent meta-analysis found that medical costs fall by about $3.27 and absenteeism costs fall by about $2.73 for every dollar spent.

Published in Cincinnati
Wednesday, 26 May 2010 20:00

Creating a wellness program

Imagine an office where employees walk laps during lunch, their pedometers clipped to their waistbands. Imagine an office where employees snack on fruits and nuts rather than candy bars, drink water instead of another can of soda, and have managed to kick that pack-a-day habit.

Imagine an office where health and wellness are a priority.

Is this anything like your office? Perhaps it will be during the months and years to come.

There is little doubt that health and wellness are hot topics. Just turn on the television and watch reality shows about weight loss, or pick up a magazine and read the articles on wellness published recently in Time and The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Or turn your eyes to Washington, D.C., where President Barack Obama signed the health care reform legislation in late March.

Our parents are overweight. Our children are overweight. We are overweight. And as we work our way through the recession, our days are packed. We tend to eat poorly and not exercise, and our poor decisions are costing not only our bodies and our minds but also our health care costs and our office productivity. A wellness program just might help to turn the overwhelming tide of fat and frustration.

“Wellness is infectious,” says Staycee A. Benjamin, manager of wellness and health promotion, Kaiser Permanente of Georgia. “Once you come into a company and you get a certain percentage of the employees on board, people start to notice, and they see people doing better. Eventually, they will come around and want to be a part of it in some fashion.”

If you don’t have a program at your business, why should you bother to install one now? If you do have a program, why should you aim to improve it as we continue to move through 2010? Well, plenty of research proves that healthier employees are more productive and actually cost you and your business less in total costs. And there is an impressive return on the investment, especially after a year or two.

But you have to plan and install the program first.

Take the first step

Are your employees overweight? Are they obese? Do they smoke? Not long ago, you would have been well within your rights to avoid the answers to any of those questions. If your employees worked hard and produced, who cared about their health? But after years of medical research, those are important and relevant questions. If the answer to any is yes, you’ll want to consider a wellness program.

The question you have to ask yourself, though, is why do you want to install a program?

There are no wrong answers, but if there is no why, the program will flounder. And if you and your executives don’t support the program from its first breath, neither will your employees. So take the time to work with a private company for you and your employees to take a health risk assessment and a biometric screening.

“We can take that data and work with the company to see what their internal culture is,” Benjamin says. “One of the most important things we need so we can come in and provide a successful and comprehensive wellness program is their buy-in, particularly from leadership, and for them to adopt a culture of wellness.”

HRAs, which are often free online or cost between $5 and $25 per employee if performed in person, and biometric screenings, which cost between $50 and $150 per employee, highlight symptoms and conditions that might develop into larger problems in the future, both among individuals and your employee base as a whole. If you work with an outside company, the information will also be anonymous and in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

“We do an online self-reported health risk assessment and they can opt to share that information with their doctor,” Benjamin says. “We don’t even have to have anybody’s name or identification to pull particular information, like claims data or a variety of reports, about a particular company.”

Consider your employees

Because of the general complexity of HIPAA laws, you might be better off turning to an outside company to ensure that your wellness program remains in compliance.

“When we develop a company wellness program, there are two basic options we look at,” says Renzie Richardson, CEO, Be Healthy for Life LLC. “Companies can either use an outside vendor or decide they want to do it themselves internally. They will probably want to work with a consultant either way.”

No matter your choice on that matter, your employees do need to feel a sense of inclusion in —and perhaps even some sliver of ownership of — the program, so involve them as early as possible. Tell them about the program as you develop it, and if you build a wellness planning committee, make sure you bring in people from as many departments as possible and allow them to participate.

The key to increased participation is to offer incentives, especially now as we continue to recover from the recession and every little bonus bears the glint of gold. Perhaps your employees would react to paid time off or reduced premium costs. Both are common incentives, according to a panel of more than two dozen industry experts.

“A lot of companies are now offering incentives,” Benjamin says. “Sometimes people need those incentives to even look at their own health.”

Monitor your results

The fruits of an effective wellness program will take time to develop and spread throughout your business. Give it a couple months to notice the first signs of change, a year to really see an improvement and a couple years to watch as the culture changes.

Over time, you can measure the collective pounds lost and the decrease in cholesterol and blood pressure levels. You can also measure the decreased rate of absenteeism because of injury or illness, improved productivity, and perhaps even lower figures for workers’ compensation claims and turnover rate.

The program might also pay for itself during that first year — thanks to employees being able to work more hours and to a possible decrease in health care costs — but you’ll likely have to wait until at least the second year to see any real positive return.

“Generally, it takes about 18 months from the launch of a wellness program to see the health care bottom line change,” Richardson says. “That is the average point at which workers start to improve their health and they start to cancel out some of those costs.”

When that change starts to filter in, you’ll likely see the average wellness program will be worth about $3 for every $1 you invest. Some experts say you can expect more than that — $5, $6 or even $8 for every $1 you invest. But $3 is a fair figure on which most experts agree.

“Employers need to know that healthy employees are good for business,” Richardson says. “Sometimes, an employer can see their rising costs of health care but feel handcuffed and say they can’t do anything about it. I like to tell employers this is a strategic investment, and it will at least slow down the rise of health care costs.

“It just makes good sense to invest in a wellness program.”

Published in Atlanta
Wednesday, 26 May 2010 20:00

3 Questions

 

Annette Ruby is the vice president of health services management for SummaCare Inc., which is one of the few provider-owned health insurance companies in the region. SummaCare has more than 6,000 health care physicians and 50 hospitals in its regional network.

Q. How can an insurance company help a business develop a wellness program?

Insurance companies and employers have a great opportunity to work together to develop a wellness strategy. On the insurance side, we do this by understanding how employees utilize health care — what they access, what they don’t access, understanding the illness burden of a group, what percent of their population is healthy, what percent of their population is at risk, who’s moving into a higher cost plateau because they’ve developed a chronic disease — and then working with an employer to understand the kind of problems that are driving their health care costs and understanding their overall risk.

Q. What resources can an insurance company provide during and after the process of implementing a wellness program?

The way we work with our employers is that prior to implementing a wellness strategy, we really try to understand what their overall health benefits goals are. That’s important because employers really differ in the kinds of health care insurance products they offer their employees and understanding what kind of budget they have. We work with some very small employers who might be struggling but are committed to providing an insurance offering for their employees and are looking for a low-cost option in an attempt to provide a more stable premium.

Q. How much money, time and effort should a business invest in a wellness program?

Some recent studies have shown that if an employer is spending between $100 and $150 per employee per year, you can develop a comprehensive health promotion initiative and expect results. All of those other factors that influence your results are still present, but that level of spending would suggest that if you have a good program, you can expect good results. Any business strategy requires vision, and that time and effort can be reduced by working effectively with your insurance company.

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 20 May 2010 20:00

3 Questions

Rob Soroka has played an integral role at Huntington in Ohio throughout the last eight years. Soroka has served as the regional group executive for retail banking and was appointed retail area manager in 2009. He previously spent 18 years at Bank One/Chase.

 

Q. Communication is important, of course, but how else can a business develop a strong relationship with its bank?

 

We try to drive a lot of trust with the customer. I hear it from business customers all the time: They need to trust the people around them. Having that trust is important. What you get then is a lot more information, and that’s important to have a high level of communication.

 

Q. How can a business work with its bank to save money and become more efficient in this economy?

 

I’ve been through several cycles, none this hard. One thing about this cycle is that rates are about as low as they can go and by design. That’s what the banks and the Fed wanted to do to help businesses get through this cycle. So we’re offering the lowest rates I’ve seen. In other cycles where we’re in a decreasing rate environment, we would do loan rewrites, but we pretty much made it through that. People are saving money on loans, so we’re turning our attention to treasury services, helping customers manage their cash flow. Are they taking advantage of discounts offered by their vendors? Can we invest some of the excess money sitting in their accounts?

 

Q. Is it any more difficult now than it was six or nine months ago for a business to obtain a loan from a bank?

 

It’s slightly harder because all banks are going to ask for more information. What we’re trying to do is determine what else we can do with information to help the client. The other week, we collected an accounts receivable aging where we wouldn’t have before, and in looking at that, the banker noticed a couple of things on how that company can manage that better. Ultimately, the client’s saving more money.

Published in Akron/Canton
Sunday, 25 April 2010 20:00

Opening the vault

Stop for a minute or two and think back to what you learned about the banking industry during your childhood. Your parents probably introduced you to the concepts of deposits and checks and balances. You learned how to make the numbers work. Now think about what you learned about the industry during your years on campus and in the classroom. Some professor probably lectured to you about loans and liens and interest. You learned enough to earn a good grade and get out in the business world. And what did you learn about the industry after you established yourself in that world? You probably learned that a relationship with your banker is important, that surprises are bad and that communication is the key to just about everything.

Well, good. Keep all of that information in mind because so much of it remains relevant and important today. But so much more of the information that you learned during your childhood and your education and your years in business is now better left in the past, thanks to the lingering memories and results of the financial fiasco that rocked the economy for the better part of two years.

As we climb out of the fiscal wreckage of 2008 and 2009, the banking industry is in the middle of a new landscape. After what seemed like one bank sale, merger or closure after another, there are now fewer banks across the nation. And after thousands and thousands of businesses defaulted on their loans, banks of all sizes became more prudent in their lending practices.

The financial future continues to improve, but the present might be difficult for some business owners.

“There are some changes, but it didn’t happen nine months ago, it started happening (in January),” says Martin Brown, senior vice president, group manager North, Comerica Inc. “I think things will be slow and steady. Why did it start (in January)? That’s a great question. I think people were ready to get back to business; I think that there was a perception or a general attitude that the worst was behind us so let’s get back to business. I don’t know what to put my finger on, but it has definitely picked up.”

Ask the right questions

Communication with your bank and your banker is as important today as it was 10, 20 or 50 years ago — and, of course, with smart phones and the ability to talk almost immediately with just about anyone anywhere in the world at any time, communication has never been easier, either. But sitting down with your banker in person rather than over the phone remains the best and most effective means of communication, even if it might feel like some sort of lost art. That goes both ways, too; you should want to meet with your banker in person, but he or she should also want to meet with you.

“A good bank is one that works with a business on ongoing basis,” says Kevin Gillen, regional president, TD Bank N.A. “When I was a relationship manager and lender, I would meet with my clients at least every quarter, and I would provide any type of market intelligence I could. For instance, if they were going to bring in a tenant into a piece of real estate, if they were going to buy a piece of real estate, I would share information with them to make sure they were pricing their leases accordingly. There are a number of industry best practices, standards and metrics that a bank can share with the CEO, CFO or principal. It helps to put that in perspective.”

It’s important for you to ask the right questions, too, especially if your bank merged with another bank during the recession or if it closed its doors and left you looking for a new bank.

For example, what will the bank offer you in terms of its resources? Will you work with one banker or with a team? As your business grows and changes, will the bank be able to help you meet your evolving needs? And how will the bank support you during your growth or expansion? Will the bank and your banker be proactive and visit your offices or locations in order to learn more about your company and provide trusted advice? Or will the bank offer nothing more than answers to your banking needs?

Think of that first conversation like a first date, of sorts. You want to learn as much as possible so you can determine whether to go out on a second date. If all goes well, maybe those dates will turn into a long-term relationship.

“I view these relationships as very similar to our relationships at home: There’s a lot of good, and there’s some bad, too,” Brown says. “There are ups and downs. The main message we would like to project is that there are things we can help you with. Just ask. Whether that’s introducing you to someone, helping you with revenue opportunities, showing you ways to cut costs, communicating the latest business tools or showing you best practices in all stages of your business.”

Prepare for economic change

On the surface, at least, the economy has started to turn. You need to look no further than the Bureau of Labor Statistics for proof of that. The unemployment rate either held or dropped each month from October 2009 through February, down to 9.7 percent from 10.1 percent. But talk with enough bankers and the picture comes into clearer focus.

Banks are still lending money. Banks want and need to lend money. It is, after all, one of their major sources of revenue. But according to a panel of experts, the number of loans and the amount of money requested during the last 12 months dropped significantly, and among the businesses that continued to request loans, more defaulted than normal. That led to banks examining financial statements and trends more closely. It also led to the perception that banks were holding onto their money.

“If you went back two years and you looked at being able to obtain a loan, a prospective client had a lot of different options,” Brown says. “They had the large multinational banks, the large super-regional banks, all the way down to the community banks. Whenever we saw an opportunity in the marketplace, we had six or seven different competitors. Now we have, maybe, one or two.

“I don’t know if the prospective borrowers are not going to as many banks to get a bid or what. I wouldn’t say there’s less competition, it’s just different. The competition is acting different.”

Now, with fewer banks in the marketplace, some banks can be more selective. But most are actually more open now to lending and are more forgiving. Ask around and you might find that many are breaking down the last year of financial statements for businesses seeking a loan, examining each month in search of positive trends, rather than just glazing over negative numbers from the last two or three years. Other banks are adding business bankers. Still more have recently committed billions to small and medium businesses.

The time is right to work with your bank. Just ask.

Published in Florida
Sunday, 25 April 2010 20:00

Opening the vault

Stop for a minute or two and think back to what you learned about the banking industry during your childhood. Your parents probably introduced you to the concepts of deposits and checks and balances. You learned how to make the numbers work. Now think about what you learned about the industry during your years on campus and in the classroom. Some professor probably lectured to you about loans and liens and interest. You learned enough to earn a good grade and get out in the business world. And what did you learn about the industry after you established yourself in that world? You probably learned that a relationship with your banker is important, that surprises are bad and that communication is the key to just about everything.

Well, good. Keep all of that information in mind because so much of it remains relevant and important today. But so much more of the information that you learned during your childhood and your education and your years in business is now better left in the past, thanks to the lingering memories and results of the financial fiasco that rocked the economy for the better part of two years.

As we climb out of the fiscal wreckage of 2008 and 2009, the banking industry is in the middle of a new landscape. After what seemed like one bank sale, merger or closure after another, there are now fewer banks across the nation. And after thousands and thousands of businesses defaulted on their loans, banks of all sizes became more prudent in their lending practices.

The financial future continues to improve, but the present might be difficult for some business owners.

“Banks put a lot of importance on financial information, and rightfully so, because 2009 was not a robust year, and when you look at those financial statements, a lot of them show red ink,” says Dave Hammer, regional president, Huntington National Bank. “It makes a bank look at things harder, quite frankly.

“I was talking with one client who saw their revenue base drop 40 percent last year. That’s big, and, clearly, it has an impact on banks. Banks have to ask whether this revenue situation is going to turn around in 2010. It’s questions like that that we have to be comfortable answering.”

Ask the right questions

Communication with your bank and your banker is as important today as it was 10, 20 or 50 years ago — and, of course, with smart phones and the ability to talk almost immediately with just about anyone anywhere in the world at any time, communication has never been easier, either. But sitting down with your banker in person rather than over the phone remains the best and most effective means of communication, even if it might feel like some sort of lost art. That goes both ways, too; you should want to meet with your banker in person, but he or she should also want to meet with you.

“I think it’s incumbent on a bank to be proactive with their clientele and with their prospective clientele, to tell them what’s new and what’s exciting and what the banks think a particular business may need,” Hammer says. “At the same time, I think it’s incumbent upon a business by being proactive, by saying ‘Here’s what’s coming, here’s what projects are coming,’ and, probably most important, when a business sees some bumps in the road that may be coming. That gives a bank much more lead time to react to potential problems, because we all realize that businesses do not move in a linear fashion, straight up.

“Communication is the right word, but be very proactive, very robust, very timely, so everyone trusts each other on both sides of the table.”

It’s important for you to ask the right questions, too, especially if your bank merged with another bank during the recession or if it closed its doors and left you looking for a new bank.

For example, what will the bank offer you in terms of its resources? Will you work with one banker or with a team? As your business grows and changes, will the bank be able to help you meet your evolving needs? And how will the bank support you during your growth or expansion? Will the bank and your banker be proactive and visit your offices or locations in order to learn more about your company and provide trusted advice? Or will the bank offer nothing more than answers to your banking needs?

Think of that first conversation like a first date, of sorts. You want to learn as much as possible so you can determine whether to go out on a second date. If all goes well, maybe those dates will turn into a long-term relationship.

“The better your bank knows you, the better they’ll know your business,” says Todd Barnhart, senior vice president and manager of deposits, PNC Financial Services Group Inc. “It’s important to keep an open line of communication at all times, not just when it’s necessary to conduct your business. At minimum, businesses should consider sitting down with their banker for an annual business review. This serves as a good venue to discuss the upcoming year and any expected changes to the business.”

Prepare for economic change

On the surface, at least, the economy has started to turn. You need to look no further than the Bureau of Labor Statistics for proof of that. The unemployment rate either held or dropped each month from October 2009 through February, down to 9.7 percent from 10.1 percent. But talk with enough bankers and the picture comes into clearer focus.

Banks are still lending money. Banks want and need to lend money. It is, after all, one of their major sources of revenue. But according to a panel of experts, the number of loans and the amount of money requested during the last 12 months dropped significantly, and among the businesses that continued to request loans, more defaulted than normal. That led to banks examining financial statements and trends more closely. It also led to the perception that banks were holding onto their money.

“Loan demand has been down industrywide,” Barnhart says. “We want to ensure that we are helping as many small businesses obtain credit as possible. Many businesses are likely coming off of one of their most challenging years in a long time, and we’re encouraging our business bankers to proactively engage their customers in conversations around their financial results so that we can be in a better position to work with them and help them through the current economic cycle.”

Now, with fewer banks in the marketplace, some banks can be more selective. But most are actually more open now to lending and are more forgiving. Ask around and you might find that many are breaking down the last year of financial statements for businesses seeking a loan, examining each month in search of positive trends, rather than just glazing over negative numbers from the last two or three years. Other banks are adding business bankers. Still more have recently committed billions to small and medium businesses.

The time is right to work with your bank. Just ask.

Published in Pittsburgh