Why you need to make getting your employees in shape a priority

The success of a wellness program, in terms of changed behavior and the bottom line, hinges on integrating all planning, activities and efforts into one vibrant, measurable initiative.

A key requirement of this integration and the development of salient measures, whether it is one location or in multiple markets, is the buy-in of company leadership.

Programs that achieve the greatest measure of behavioral change and cost reduction are championed and modeled by the executive team.

Working closely with top executives to customize a wellness program that fits seamlessly into the existing corporate culture is a key step.

Behavioral changes and value

The perception of value is rising in corporate suites.

“Wellness programs have often been viewed as a nice extra, not a strategic imperative. Newer evidence tells a different story,” say Leonard L. Berry, Ann M. Mirabito and William B. Braun in a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article. “U.S. companies can use wellness programs to chip away at their enormous health care costs, which are only rising with an aging workforce.”

Obesity is a particular concern from the shop floor to the corner office. This issue impacts health care related costs, short-term and long-term disability and worker’s compensation claims. For example, a recent analysis by Cigna of 1.56 million short-term disability claims from 1993 to 2012 revealed a 3,300-percent increase in obesity.

“If you think about obesity and the wear and tear that condition has on the extremities and knees, for example, it drives the occurrence of conditions that ultimately lead people to have knee replacements and so forth,” says Dr. Robert Anfield, Chief Medical Officer at Cigna.

The HBR authors cited a study of 185 workers and their spouses in which more than half of those classified as high risk were converted to low risk after six months in a wellness program. Medical claim costs declined by $1,421 per participant.

“The bottom line: Every dollar invested in the intervention yielded $6 in health care savings,” say the authors.

In another case cited by the HBR authors, after a wellness initiative at a hospital was in place for six years, the number of lost workdays declined by 80 percent.

Benefits are clear

Leslie Morse, director of claims management for Alper Services LLC in Chicago, says that there is clearly a benefit to wellness.

“Employees are quicker to heal, and quicker to go back to work,” Morse says of employees who take part in wellness programs.

As a final example, a youth training organization with 10 locations across the country had about half of all its employees participate in the iCount Corporate Wellness program in its first year. Participation grew by 13 percent in the second year and another 9 percent in the third year. Now, after six years, 75 percent of all the employees are regularly engaged.

A combination of committed leadership in a company and the hands-on work of a wellness expert can set the table, but it must also be a key focus for the entire senior team. Healthy, happy employees are, indeed, your greatest asset.

An improved bottom line — short term and long term — doesn’t hurt, either. ●