Workplace wellness

The buzz around worksite wellness
programs continues to grow — and
with good reason. More and more employers are looking to incorporate
health promotion and disease prevention
into their business strategy and culture.
These companies are seeing the link
between a healthy work force and a
healthy bottom line.

The shift that’s occurring, according to
Wendy Wigger, director of wellness for
Priority Health, a Michigan-based health
insurance plan, is a move from focusing
solely on the cost of health care to looking
at the bigger picture of the total investment
and value of health. Many employers are
seeking to better understand not just their
costs. They’re also identifying some of the
key drivers to their health care costs and
the impact that can be made on them.
They’re focused not only on the 20 percent
of their employees who may be driving 80
percent of their health care costs, but
they’re also focused on keeping the 80 percent of their “healthy employees” healthy.

Smart Business spoke with Wigger
about the benefits a company can reap by
implementing a workplace wellness plan.

Does wellness really work?

The cost benefit of worksite wellness has
been well documented over the past two
decades. For example, according to the
American Journal of Health Promotion in a
review of 73 published studies of worksite
health promotion programs, there was an
average $3.50-to-$1 savings-to-cost ratio in
reduced absenteeism and health care costs.
And, based on work conducted by Larry
Chapman in a meta-review of 42 published
studies of worksite health promotion programs, there was an average 28 percent
reduction in sick-leave absenteeism, 26 percent reduction in health costs, 30 percent
reduction in workers’ compensation and
disability management claims costs and a
$5.93-to-$1 savings-to-cost ratio.

If we’re going to be successful in affecting overall rising health care costs and
health outcomes, we need to focus on the root cause of disease — and that’s our
unhealthy lifestyle behaviors. Wellness is a
key prevention strategy designed to impact
the health and cost equation.

What lifestyle choices have the most impact
on health care costs and why?

Evidence points to the fact that more
than half of all health care costs are attributable to lifestyle behaviors — factors we
can control to a significant degree. In fact,
33 percent of United States deaths per year
can be attributed to tobacco use, physical
inactivity and poor eating habits.

The number and type of health risks an
individual has can greatly amplify his or
her overall health care costs. Smoking,
lack of exercise and obesity are the three
greatest modifiable lifestyle behaviors that
drive increased health care costs. These
particular lifestyle behaviors are associated with increased risks for cardiovascular
disease, certain types of cancers, diabetes
and other diseases. Beyond the increased
health care costs, there’s also the impact
on employee productivity in the work-place, work limitations, absenteeism, the
level of engagement in work, as well as the
individual’s overall quality of life.

What tangible steps can employers take to
support their employees in making healthier

Core components of an effective wellness program rely on education, behavior
change interventions, and strategies for
creating supportive and healthy work environments. The primary goal of such programs is to positively influence health
behaviors, reduce health risks and optimize health and productivity. In addition,
there’s also the economic goal of lowering
or helping to manage long-term health-related costs.

While an effective worksite wellness program will vary based on the needs and
environment of the organization, there are
common elements. First, you must begin
with a solid benchmark of the health of
your employees and your company’s commitment to health and wellness. Second,
develop an evaluation system to measure
program impact and outcomes. Third,
include health education programs that
provide employees with the information
and skills to change their lifestyle behaviors. Fourth, consider health screens,
including a health risk appraisal that can
help employees assess their current health
risks and set the stage for focused health
improvement. Fifth, create a healthy work
culture to reinforce and support sustainable lifestyle behavior changes. Sixth, build
wellness as a business strategy to fully integrate your health promotion programming
efforts into your organization’s overall values, mission and vision. Finally, create linkages between your wellness efforts and
other employee support services, such as
benefits, employee assistant programs and
work-life balances to optimize the value
and results from each program. Following
these results, you can achieve better health
for your employees and a healthier bottom
line for your business.

WENDY WIGGER is the director of wellness for Priority Health,
a Michigan-based health insurance plan. Reach her at (616) 464-8758.