Kaiser Permanente has a commitment to care Featured

7:01pm EDT January 31, 2012
Kaiser Permanente has a commitment to care

Taking measures to promote employee wellness can save you money.

In fact, a comprehensive study showed that workplace health promotion programs resulted in a 25-30 percent reduction in medical and absenteeism costs, according to a report by the World Health Organization and World Economic Forum.

Kaiser Permanente, a leading health care provider and not-for-profit health plan, uses HealthWorks, a customizable work force health strategy, to help employers take advantage of their benefits and create a corporate wellness plan. Headquartered in Oakland, Calif., the organization added its 15th medical facility within Ohio last month.

“If (companies) make an investment in employee or associate wellness, they’re going to get a substantial return on their investment that not only helps their associates to be healthier but also improves presenteeism and improves the bottom line for their organization because they actually have happy and healthier associates,” says Joseph M. LaGuardia, vice president of marketing, sales and business development for Kaiser Permanente.

Looking to your health planner for guidance and resources is key in taking the first step toward creating a wellness program — identifying employee needs and setting goals accordingly.

For example, member companies of Kaiser Permanente can access a variety of tools such as onsite screenings of employees, worksite wellness activities and online educational resources with HealthWorks.

Also, talk directly to employees, says Carolyn A. Hodges, a HealthWorks consultant at Kaiser.

“Sometimes it’s as easy as polling them and really understanding who your population is,” Hodges says. “What are their health concerns? What would they be interested in?”

After evaluating the wellness needs and goals of your organization, create a committee to handle implementation.

“Developing a wellness committee is integral to the success of a wellness program because they are the ones who are passionate about health and wellness,” Hodges says. “They’ll be the ones to motivate their fellow employees. And if you can, draw on various departments so you have different opinions throughout the organization.”

Then begin enacting programs that further your goals.

“It doesn’t need to be a huge over-the-top initiative,” says Hodges. “Employers can take easy steps: posting hand-washing reminders or reminders to take advantage of free flu shots — just constant reminders. I think communicating to motivate is critical. (Use) different venues: in the lunchroom, through e-mail, making announcements.”

One of the most common wellness goals is weight management. In addition to fresh New Year resolutions, it’s a prominent concern because of its links to serious, sometimes chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia.

Instead of addressing the negative and often sensitive issue of obesity with your employees, promote positive activities and lifestyle changes that will combat obesity, such as physical activity and healthy eating.

“Instead of a weight-management program, launch a walking program,” Hodges says. “Launch a physical activity challenge. Focus on healthy eating by providing them with a healthy nutrition library and ask employees to bring in fun recipes. Throw a weekly salad bar potluck.”

Creating programs is not enough — you have to get buy-in from your staff. To encourage employee participation, senior management must also actively engage in wellness programs.

“If the employer sponsors a ‘lunch and learn,’ a walking program or a potluck, the employer needs to be there,” Hodges says. “Bring a healthy dish, join a team, show up at the presentation. The importance piece is being physical to the employees. Walk around and talk to employees about how they’re enjoying the program.

“Making sure employees know you care about them and their health will lead to them being engaged in their own health and wellness.”

How to reach: Kaiser Permanente, (216) 479-5547 or http://businessnet.kp.org

A mental note

There’s a mental side to health in addition to the physical, says Joseph M. LaGuardia. Maintaining good mental health will keep your workforce invigorated.

LaGuardia, vice president of marketing, sales and business development for Kaiser Permanente, says to create wellness programs that are fun to engage employees.

“Do something that’s tied in with some of the nonprofits in town,” LaGuardia says. “There are organizations that will give employers guidance on that, like Business Volunteers Unlimited. They’ll actually help you conduct done-in-a-day projects. ... That type of thing helps employers make it more fun to come to work and enjoy what they do.”

Carolyn A. Hodges, a HealthWorks consultant with Kaiser Permanente, says to also give employees timeouts from work during stressful periods.

“If there’s a deadline approaching and you know everyone is stressed out, throw in a potluck or a relaxation event — and be a part of it — so you know that your employees know you care about them, and that they can take time away from the stressful environment,” Hodges says. “That’s showing appreciation for everything your employees are doing.”