Employee wellness programs

Organizations that value and promote a
healthy lifestyle may have an edge
when it comes to attracting and retaining key people. In addition, their
employees may be more alert and more

“In these organizations, we also tend to
see better employee morale, says Nancy
Zimmerman, Well Workplace coordinator,
AvMed Health Plans. “A healthy lifestyle
impacts every part of the day-to-day work
environment. Workplace wellness programs translate into fewer injuries, less
human error and a more harmonious work

“A good workplace wellness program will
also help reduce stress, which has been
called ‘the 21st century disease,’” she adds.
“A large majority of workers complain that
their job is stressful — a problem that
affects all levels within an organization.”

Smart Business asked Zimmerman how
wellness programs can contribute to a
healthier work force and lower costs.

How does having a wellness program keep
costs down?

For well over a decade, research has
showed the effectiveness of workplace
wellness programs. For every dollar spent
on a corporate wellness program, the
returns have been cost savings of between
$2.30 and $10.10 in the areas of decreased
absenteeism, fewer sick days, reduced
workers’ comp claims, lowered health and
insurance costs, and improvements to
employee performance and productivity.

What types of wellness programs can be

A comprehensive wellness program
involves all employees, deals with all major
health risks, offers choices, targets both
the employees and the worksite environment and provides periodic evaluation of
its results. A comprehensive program
emphasizes follow up and offers support
for the employees.

Though many types of screenings can be
done at the worksite, the most common is
heart health. The screening should include
blood pressure measurement, cholesterol/HDL-cholesterol, glucose (blood
sugar) and body weight. Also, educational
materials specific to diet, nutrition, exercise, cholesterol, smoking and weight management should be available. The health
professionals conducting the screenings
should provide consultation and help set
individual goals with the participants.

A Health Risk Appraisal (HRA) should be
used in conjunction with the health screening, which will ensure accuracy of the clinical answers. An HRA is a computerized or
paper assessment tool, which looks at an
individual’s family history, health status
and lifestyle. An HRA can identify precursors associated with serious illness and
quantify the probable impact for each individual. It also provides recommendations
and indicates what risks are modifiable.
One of the big benefits of this tool is that it
can provide aggregate group data of a company that can be used as an evaluation tool.

Once the aggregate data is assessed,
implementation of programs can begin.
For example, if the report reflected that 60
percent of employees are in a prehypertensive state, then follow up with blood-pressure-specific information and repeat
screening is recommended, along with
nutrition counseling.

Also, the HRA report will tell the employer about the fitness levels of their employees. If the levels are low, then that can contribute to risks for a number of illnesses. In
that case, a walking program, adding a fitness center or membership or bringing a
personal trainer to administer a fitness program would be recommended.

In general, how do employees react to wellness programs?

Most employees react well to the concept
and take the screening and HRA feedback
very seriously. The employees feel good that
their organization is concerned about their
general health and well-being.

Unfortunately, that’s where a majority of
employees end their participation in wellness programs. That’s the challenge: to
maintain their interest. Wellness is interesting because it is about a serious subject — a
person’s health — yet, it is supposed to be
fun. Most people react well to incentives,
such as raffles. While many would rather
have you raffle items such as a TV or cruise,
offering prizes such as healthy items or gift
certificates to healthy eating establishments
will keep the focus on wellness.

There is a trend, though — call it a second wave of the wellness revolution:
employers rewarding healthy employees
who participate in wellness programs with
lower premiums. The ‘if you don’t play, you
pay’ theory is catching on around the country, mostly in larger employer groups.

How can top-level management encourage
employees to take advantage of wellness programs?

It is imperative that all of this come from
the top. The buy-in must be complete to be
successful. This includes giving employees
time off of work to participate in these programs. If upper management starts working on ways to make a healthier lifestyle
easier to achieve for employees — and
consider tying premiums to that healthier
lifestyle — then there is a chance to have a
happier, healthier work force.

NANCY ZIMMERMAN is Well Workplace coordinator,
AvMedHealth Plans. Reach her at (904) 858-1302 or
[email protected].