Business of Well-being

Corporate Wellness Out of Town - What to do with Employees Who Travel

Because many of its 344 employees are constantly on the road, working on projects across the Southeast, arol Swanson thought their health was imperative. So, the human resources manager at Winter Construction began searching for a wellness program to supplement the Atlanta-based company's medical plan.

"Healthy employees are more productive, but it's tough to stay fit for our employees who travel, don't have access to their gym and often rely on fast-food for many of their meals," said Swanson. "We needed a flexible program that could be customized to our employees and easily integrated into their lives without adding a lot of extra time."

She found such a wellness program, which she implemented at the start of the year. All 180 employees under the company's medical plan are now enrolled. Winter is among the growing number of companies prioritizing health and wellness for their employees through unique initiatives that include rewards to entice employees who embrace the programs.

Roughly 70 percent of the companies in the United States with at least three employees provide health insurance and, two-thirds of those offer at least one wellness program. Larger companies are most likely to offers a wellness program. Employer spending on wellness-based incentives is growing, up 15 percent this year to $594 and more than double the $260 average reported five years ago.

Essential Keys

Winter Construction discovered three key elements necessary for employing a wellness initiative: verifiable data, an ongoing provider partnership, senior leadership support and engagement.

Verifiable Data

Understandably, employers want to know if a wellness initiative will have a positive return on investment, which is typically a ratio of health plan dollars saved per dollar invested. Studies indicate that wellness programs deliver an average medical cost savings of $3.27 per dollar invested. But there's more to the ROI of a wellness program than medical savings. Increased productivity and decreased absenteeism are valuable outcomes that result from successful wellness initiatives.

A HumanaVitality study found that unscheduled absences were 56 percent higher among employees who were not actively engaged in their wellness program. Verifiable data should measure progress of each individual in the program - from physical fitness to nutrition education and improvements in personal health.

Mobile health applications, wearable devices, websites or local pharmacy can make the difference in an effective wellness program. Biometric screenings track progress and fuel health assessments that raise employee awareness of key body measurements.

The screening results can also be shared with physicians, who monitor and support health changes.Wellness researchers and experts recommend ongoing recordkeeping to measure participation and improvement among both individuals and groups.

Winter Construction reduced health insurance costs by 10 percent as a result of 100-percent participation, a significant figure for a group of more than 170 employees. Multiple studies indicate that employers who invest in employee health have substantially lowered medical costs and achieve better results on other critical performance indicators.


The wellness program provider can delivers tremendous support to companies retaining them. In early 2014, Winter Construction was set to send a number of employees to North Carolina and Mississippi from the Atlanta area. Its wellness partner quickly dispatched staff to conduct biometric screenings on the employees before leaving.

Because many of the field employees are Spanish-speaking, Winters partnered with its wellness provider to overcome language barriers. Employees at Winters translated the materials provided by the wellness partner, which made available an interpreter to spell out benefits of the program.

Winter also provided employees with activity trackers, which, in turn, enabled the wellness provider to monitor progress of participants who did not have access to computers or smartphones. The provider also established biometric screenings for employees outside its hospitals network. "Anytime we've hit an obstacle, we've partnered to overcome it, and we've had our wellness partner's full support," said Swanson.

Leadership Involvement

Corporate leadership and support is considered an essential cornerstone for a program in which they have already invested time and money. Yet, a Towers Watson survey found senior leadership support lacking in many companies.

Only one-in-four respondents reported that that  managers and/or senior leaders volunteer as health champions or serve as role models. Senior leaders who personalize messages also are uncommon. Less than 20 percent of respondents report their leaders share personal health stories. Employees need to see senior executives involved.

Behavior is often more important than words. Endorsement letters and videos are strong communicators, but not nearly as much as when employees see their CEO first in line for a health screening or corporate run. Swanson said Winter Construction executives are "walking the walk and leading by example," reaching out to employees to mentor, educate and encourage. Managers have also begun to spotlight employee success stories.

Early Winter Construction Results

Winter Construction's wellness initiative has shown measurable growth after less than a year. Employee absenteeism and compensation issues have decreased. From the start, all employees have accepted the challenge to reach stated goals. As employees begin to feel better, they are even more motivated to continue beyond previous intentions.

In fact, one-third of employees have achieved higher levels than hoped for. Consider some employee experiences, like the employee who walks 20,000 steps, 10,000 more than  required of his group.

He credits his activity tracker. Another employee lost 30 pounds while a colleague with significant health took advantage of the personalized program to achieve goals she had set for herself. "It's amazing how quickly wellness has become a part of our culture," said Swanson. "Our employees have become genuinely passionate about their health, and that's incredible to see. What is even better is that we are starting to sense that this is no longer just a program, but becoming a way of life for our employees."

About the Author

Kristine Mullen is vice president of Wellness Strategies & Solutions at Humana, whose health and wellness solution, HumanaVitality, offers employers an incentive-based healthy rewards program focused on using verifiable data and inspiring healthier living outcomes in members.

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