Knowing this, some employers are creating health and wellness programs designed to proactively deal with these and other issues that their employees are facing. Originally introduced 25 years ago, the health and wellness movement has picked up steam over the last few years as more companies understand how health, wellness and health care go hand in hand.
“With the increasing health care costs of the last 10 years, health and wellness have once again come to the forefront as a viable way for employers to address those costs,” says Richard Citrin, Ph.D., and vice president of employee assistance programs at UPMC Health Plan. “Companies realize that they’re dealing with an increasingly unhealthy population in the workplace, and within our culture as a whole.”
Smart Business spoke with Citrin about how companies can set up effective employee health and wellness programs:
What trends are we seeing in employee health and wellness programs right now?
For starters, companies of all sizes are realizing the importance of gathering information about their workforces. Using tools like confidential health risk assessments, employers through their health plan can gain a good perspective on the healthy and unhealthy behaviors of their employees. Using this data, they can begin to take the steps necessary to help them manage their health care.
By identifying the key risk factors, such as rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, employers, in conjunction with their health plan, can develop strategies that help employees modify their behaviors. That could mean encouraging workers to see their primary care physician for regular checkups, promoting the use of seatbelts while driving, or creating an environment that encourages healthy eating.
Finally, we’re also seeing a movement toward integration, where wellness is no longer a standalone product, but as an element of a comprehensive health care program.
How can a company go about putting together an effective health and wellness program?
First, ask yourself just how important this issue really is. Are you seeing increased health care costs? Are you noticing a lot of employees outside smoking during their breaks? Are you recording a lot of absences among workers?
By answering questions and using objective data, such as the Health Risk Assessment, you can begin to see the overall health status of your worker population. From there, you can develop a plan to take the steps necessary to improve the health of employees. For some companies, that may mean the formation of a Wellness Committee, composed of employees and managers that can plan a comprehensive wellness program. For other companies, having a health specialist come to the worksite to conduct a ‘lunch-and-learn’ on a specific health topic may be appropriate.
There are many small and simple programs that can be put in place such as stairwell program and ensuring that the company cafeteria offers an ample supply of healthy meal choices. Engaging and recruiting several ‘wellness champions’ within the workforce who can talk to their co-workers about the value of healthy eating and living can also drive participation and interest in a wellness program.
What challenges do employers face when setting up and implementing these plans?
There are two major issues.
The first one is persistence, and it’s by far the hardest challenge to overcome since many companies don’t have the resources to assign a full-time person to the task. As a result, the programs slowly lose steam as the excitement fades and employees lose interest in it.
The second issue involves confidentiality, and the role that the employer plays in a worker’s health care. It is important that the program respects employee privacy issues while also educating employees about the costs of health care. Creating an effective communication campaign that begins prior to program rollout and explains all aspects of the program sets the stage for effective cultural change within the organization.
Will we see more health and wellness programs used in the future?
While we expect to see an expansion of health promotion programs, many companies are also looking for more integrated health care services where care management, physician liaison services, disability management, workplace wellness and EAP services are fully integrated into a single program for the employer to purchase. As these programs evolve, we’re also going to see more customization and personalization for employees, and more coordination with physicians who can review health risk assessments and blood screenings.
RICHARD CITRIN is vice president of employee assistance programs at UPMC Health Plan in Pittsburgh. Reach him at (412) 647-9471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.