A new year, a new you Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2008

For your organization’s 2009 New Year’sresolutions, consider making wellnessa top priority.

According to a four-year study reported inthe Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, investing $1 in workplacewellness can save $3 to $5, thanks todecreased absenteeism and workers’ compensation claims and lower health care costs.

In order to measure the impact of a wellness program, first consider the cost of poorhealth. What could happen to a business if anemployee couldn’t work due to a health condition? Or think of the consequences to thebottom line if employees are at risk forchronic diseases, such as obesity, high bloodpressure, diabetes and heart disease.

“Those types of employees may be ‘tickingtime bombs’ for an adverse health event,which in turn would lead to increased healthcare costs for both the employee and theemployer,” says Nancy Pokorny, vice president of business development at the Councilof Smaller Enterprises (COSE). “Now is thetime to resolve to be proactive about yourcompany’s health.”

Smart Business spoke with Pokorny abouthow to implement a successful wellness program at your company.

How do I begin a wellness program for mycompany?

First, the best approach is for a businessowner to lead by example. Take care of yourself so that you are able to take better care ofyour business. Be visibly involved in activities, and provide budget support for newwellness programs. Second, identify and designate a company wellness leader who isengaged and excited about bringing freshideas to the workplace. Third, at the start ofthe wellness campaign, conduct an employee health interest survey to determine whichtopics and programs are important toemployees.

What kind of program has the most ‘bang forthe buck’?

If you are not ‘sick,’ does that mean you are‘healthy’? Not by a long shot. Many employees haven’t had a preventive care exam inyears or only go to the doctor if they areseverely ill. Provide an opportunity for employees to have a health screening at theworkplace. An on-site health screening willprovide measures related to cholesterol,blood pressure, blood glucose and bodymass index. Coupled with a private, confidential health risk assessment, employer-sponsored health screenings help employeesidentify if they are at risk for chronic diseaseand whether they should make an appointment with their physician for a more thorough preventive care exam specific to theirage and gender. The employer should requestan aggregate risk report from the screeningcompany, which will help identify whathealth topics to target for employee education and communication efforts. An aggregate risk report also provides the employerwith a baseline measurement to refer to asthe wellness initiatives grow annually.

How do I motivate my employees to becomemore active and healthy than they are today?

Adults are most likely to change a healthbehavior when supported by the people theyspend time with, backed by policies and initiatives. Everyone likes incentives, so beginby recognizing participation in events andprograms with a ‘carrot.’ Hold a raffle ordrawing for everyone who participates in awalking challenge or health day.

In order to get employees engaged, givethem multiple opportunities to be involvedwith various activities throughout the year.Incorporate exercise into the workday with alunchtime walking club, reimburse fitnessmemberships, cover the cost of a smokingcessation program for employees who quitsuccessfully, recognize and celebrate personal health achievements in your companynewsletter, host a lunch-and-learn with anutritionist, or provide weekly yoga classes.Also, be sure to support employees with theeducational tools to make positive decisionsregarding their health.

How do I know if company wellness effortsare making a financial impact?

Measure and benchmark multiple datapoints frequently. Several bottom-lineexpenses are tied to employee health besidesdirect health care costs. Unscheduled absenteeism, employee productivity, turnover,workers’ compensation claims, the length oftime it takes to return to work after injury,short-term sick leave, disability claims,recruitment and retention are all costs associated with employee health either directly orindirectly.

Start planning right now for a healthy NewYear for yourself and your employees. If youengage employees in the company wellnessplanning and implementation, you’re morelikely to have buy-in from all directions.Announce your intentions in December, sothat you begin making your company awareof the new direction for 2009. Start small witha few key programs, and expand offerings asemployees become more engaged in theworksite wellness initiative.

The question isn’t: ‘Should we engage in awellness program?’ The question is: ‘Can weafford not to?’

NANCY POKORNY is the vice president of business development at the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE), one of Ohio’s largestsmall business support organizations. Reach her at npokorny@cose.org or (216) 592-2309. Composed of more than 17,000 members,COSE strives to help small businesses grow and maintain their independence. COSE has a long history of fighting for the rights of allsmall business owners, whether it’s through group purchasing programs for health care powered by Medical Mutual of Ohio, workers’compensation or energy, advocating for specific changes in legislation or regulation, or providing a forum and resource for small businesses to connect with and learn from one another.