Business of Well-being

Affordably Creating a Wellness Culture At a Small Company: A Case Study

Rising healthcare premiums, high claims rates, poor benefit offerings. All of these factors can spell trouble for a small company trying to maintain strong participation in its benefit plans. To target each of these issues, one of the best routes is to implement a strong wellness program.

By encouraging healthy behavior, you can positively impact a company's medical insurance claims experience, which should lead to lower premiums. But how can a small company accomplish this without breaking the bank? It's easier than you think!Southern Auto Finance Co. - SAFCo - is a subprime auto finance company with approximately 175 eligible employees.

In recent years, the company has faced the challenge of offering a comprehensive and competitive insurance program as a recruiting tool at affordable prices for both the company and its employees.

Beginning in 2011, the company implemented an optional wellness program that encourages healthy behavior and preventative care on the part of its employees. This isn't as difficult, or expensive, as it sounds. Here are five tips that SAFCo learned through trial and error to make our small company's wellness program a success.

Tip #1: Brand It

Everyone likes brand names and themes. It builds excitement and naturally encourages participation. To give its overall program an identity, SAFCo held a contest to create a program name and logo. The winning submission, "GetFit SAFCo," was announced in the Company's "Scoop" Newsletter and is prominently featured in each wellness campaign.

Themes also make a wellness event more fun. For example, branding the space where your annual wellness fair is being held in a "Mardi Gras" theme, with French Quarter scene setters on the walls, street signs hanging from the ceiling, a Mardi Gras float photo booth, and handing out Mardi Gras beads to be redeemed for door prizes make the event a great deal more memorable. These items are available, relatively inexpensively, from online party outlets and novelty stores.

Tip #2: Keep It Interesting and Relevant

Look around - there are cost effective partners all around who can help make your wellness program a success. SAFCo is a member of the Wellness Council of America (Welcoa -, and uses the wellness challenges that are included with the membership as part of its program.

These challenges are fully kitted with all of the graphic and communication tools you need to ensure high participation and a successful program. Employees form into teams to compete against each other for bragging rights, and everyone who participates receive one wellness credit for future redemption for each challenge.

Opening participation up to spouses and significant others in challenges and events is very helpful for encouraging family-wide participation. You can also rely on your carrier's providers to deliver some of the content for your wellness program. In addition to the biometric screenings that are conducted at its annual wellness fair, SAFCo invites local dentists, optometrists and dermatologists who are participating providers on the company's insurance to staff their own booth at the fair.

Many of these providers are willing to do this at no cost in exchange for the opportunity to schedule appointments with your employees. Vendors are also willing to donate great door prizes. Forming partnerships with local health-oriented businesses such as a gym can also help.

You could enjoy an added team building benefit from this as well, as it's a great feeling for a group of employees to work out or take a yoga class together.Many states and other government bodies also offer options that you might not be aware of.

For example in Florida, the state funds the Tobacco Free Florida agency to assist smokers who want to quit with cessation coaching and free cessation supplies such as patches. Ask your insurance broker what options exist in your area.

Tip #3: Take a Holistic Approach

Companies should consider wellness to include more than just physical health. It includes financial and emotional health as well. For example, company lunches and other events are a great place to have a provider from your 401(k) come in to make a presentation on personal financial health and the benefits of participating in your 401(k) plan. Your company might also have a relationship with a bank, from which local branch employees are always available to come in to present to your employees.

Tip #4: Make It Top of Mind

Employees won't participate in your wellness program if they don't know how it benefits them. Be sure to utilize the simple, cost effective tools available such as company e-mail to spread your message of wellness. Always use these tools to make periodic status updates throughout challenges and events.

It's also important to walk your talk. Everything you offer from a company standpoint, such as meal choices for a company-sponsored lunch, drives your point about living a healthy lifestyle. Bringing in something such as donuts is a nice thought, but it sends a mixed message for those trying to change their habits and eat healthy.

Tip #5: Reward, Reward, Reward

People generally won't take the opportunity to participate in something unless there's something in it for them. The goal with SAFCo's wellness activities is to offer a variety of different options to participate in and earn wellness rewards.

Employees exchange wellness points, which are assigned to program activities such as wellness challenges and independent actions such as a personal physical exam, at the end of the year for meaningful rewards. These include:

  • Team members who complete six wellness activities will receive a wellness gift bag of fitness and health items.
  • Team members who complete eight wellness activities are eligible to convert one unused sick day into an extra personal day.
  • Team members who complete ten wellness activities are eligible to convert a second unused sick day into a second extra personal day.

Don't Expect Immediate Results

Changing a person's behavior can be difficult. The success of your wellness program will build in stages over the years, and can be evaluated on the overall measurable impact it has on the Company's claims experience ratio. Some specific metrics to look at include:

  • Percentage of overall participation
  • Percentage of employees who achieve award thresholds
  • Reduction in insurance claims severity and frequency

Good luck!

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