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Live Well and Be Well

Mark Roberts

A woman with her young son on her back having fun and playing in a field.

The buzzword among employers, especially this year, is wellness. Many employers have put an employee plan in place that includes a wellness element. However, the wellness topic covers many areas and can be somewhat nebulous by definition depending upon who is answering the question, “What is wellness?” For the most part, some employers think that when they throw together a gym membership, a coaching session, a smoking cessation plan, and an interactive website, they have a wellness plan. But wellness goes much farther as a concept and can be very broad-based depending on your opinion on what wellness means.

Interestingly, there is no universally accepted definition of wellness. There is, however, a set of common characteristics seen in most thoughtful attempts at a definition of wellness. You generally see a reference to a “state of well-being,” which is vague, to say the least, according to DefinitionofWellness.com. Also frequently seen is a “state of acceptance or satisfaction with your present condition.” The truth is wellness is a tough word to define. That said, Charles B. Corbin of Arizona State University gives this definition of wellness: “Wellness is a multidimensional state of being describing the existence of positive health in an individual as exemplified by quality of life and a sense of well-being.”

But more than just providing weight loss or a feel good attitude, wellness plans help improve the overall health of employers and businesses. For every dollar spent on wellness programs by employers, medical costs were reduced by about $3.27 and absenteeism costs reduced about $2.73, according to a report on U.S. workplace disease-prevention and wellness programs by Health Affairs, a health policy research journal. Studies also have shown wellness programs can provide a return on investment of between $3 and $6 for every dollar spent as reported by the Society for Human Resource Management. That’s a great ROI for anyone or any company. Besides helping lower health care costs, the real pot of gold has to do with a healthy work force being a much more productive work force, according to Health Care Service Corporation.

As health insurance costs continue to rise, more businesses are getting motivated to offer new wellness programs or improve existing ones, and the latest research shows such programs can pay off in dollars, as well as pounds and inches. However, many seemingly good wellness programs fail to achieve their potential due to poor implementation. Employers need to follow a plan on how to set up wellness programs.  Somebody with good project management skills needs to shepherd the implementation, but it can’t fall on one person’s shoulders, according to The Portland Business Journal. A wellness program requires the support of executives, as measured by their participation in the program. You need strong CEO support and role modeling, you need strong middle-management leadership and you need strong leadership from the person who coordinates the wellness program. You need a passionate advocate of wellness and healthy living in every work unit.

But just offering a wellness plan to workers is only part of the equation. You must get them engaged in the process.  When it comes to encouraging people to get healthy, it seems a free water bottle or a T-shirt doesn’t cut it anymore — cold, hard cash is where it’s at. Industry reports indicate that a rising number of employers are offering wellness programs and financial incentives and things like lower premiums to, for example, employees who don’t smoke, according to Health America Insurance.

While it might seem like a no-brainer that people should make their health a priority without being bribed to do it, the fact is many do not. There are those people who really do care about themselves and it wouldn’t matter if we were providing incentives or not, but there’s also a very large percent of the population who may not be aware of the importance of health and wellness. Money talks. People pay attention to cash. The ideal would be if everyone would engage in the health and wellness effort, the nation could potentially slow the growth of medical cost trends.

Additionally, free karate and yoga classes, biggest-loser weight reduction contests with prizes, and incentives to encourage employees to go to the doctor are among creative initiatives that have emerged in wellness programs at small and large employers. These programs are expanding and increasingly making use of technology, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

In addition to lower health care benefit costs, employers that provide wellness programs experience greater employee productivity, higher morale, lower turnover and a stronger organizational culture.  Researchers have found the most successful wellness programs have six essentials: engaged leadership at multiple levels, alignment with the company’s identity, a broad and highly relevant design, broad accessibility, internal and external partnerships and effective communications.

Employers launching a wellness program need to commit to it for the long haul and realize that financial returns will take time to achieve, according to the Mid-America Coalition on Health Care. Wellness is not something that you can go in and do it for a year and see a return on investment. The typical ROI computation that works for whether or not you invest in a new plant will not immediately work for wellness. Businesses launching wellness programs should start by collecting data about their employees through individual health-risk assessments. They should then use the data to classify the workforce’s biggest risks, such as chronic diseases, accidents, inactivity, poor diet, smoking and other lifestyle choices. The data should then be used to establish goals and make workplace changes that remove barriers to healthy choices. The outcome should be measured and evaluated to see if the program is working.

Here are some tips about providing wellness options that work, according to the Portland Business Journal:

  • Start at the top. Nobody will take the wellness program seriously if it doesn’t have strong support from the CEO and others in leadership positions.
  • Assess your needs. Perform employee health risk assessments and diagnostic screenings.
  • Get employees involved. Even a well-designed wellness program won’t work if employees don’t participate. Offer incentives that make a difference.
  • Take measurements. Track and report results.
  • Don’t expect miracles. A good wellness program will cut health care costs over time, but it typically takes 18 months or longer before the savings associated with the program outweigh the cost.

Wellness plans have definitely proven to be worth the investment, but overnight results are not what you will reap. The culture in the employee community within your business must be changed, and that takes a long time. For the most part, adults don’t like to change, especially as they grow older. But providing options for workers to participate in with the right approach definitely makes a long-term impact, not only on the personal health of individual employees, but also on the corporate health of your company.  Profitability is a major concern, and business owners and senior executives realize that in order to stay in business, a company must make more money than it loses. Having healthy employees is a really great way to make that part of the equation.

There are plenty of vendors that offer wellness plans or services, but choosing the right strategic partner makes a huge difference in the success rate of your plan. Companies like Trotter Wellness, Careington, Weight Watchers and American Specialty Health are some of the key players in this market. There are more, but working with these corporations who have a proven track record over a long time and are very good at what they provide makes sense when you are interested in sourcing the “best in class” to offer your employees.

Making the investment in a wellness plan can be expensive, but making poor choices in vendors or in program implementation can be even more costly if you pick the wrong company to help advise and implement your program. Creating an alliance with a nationwide provider that knows the business can make all the difference. Realizing that too late is a mistake you cannot afford.

About the Author:

Mark Roberts’ professional sales background includes 30 years of sales and marketing in the tax, insurance and investment markets. Mark is a licensed life, health and accident insurance agent in all 50 states and DC for insurance products and discount health plans. He serves as Manager of National Accounts at Careington International Corporation ( www.careington.com ). Additionally, Mark works with clients needing insured products   ( www.careingtonbenefitsolutions.com ) in the US and discount dental and optical schemes in the UK (www.healthydiscounts.co.uk ). Mark has been writing a health care blog for the past three years, (www.yourbesthealthcare.blogspot.com ), which is a topical weblog about various health care issues. He also regularly contributes articles to magazines for both medical and dental topics both in the US and the UK. You can reach Mark at markr@careington.com.

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