Health and Wellness Programs: Progress and Forward Motion
There is exciting news in the world of health and wellness programs. The federal government is paying close attention to the benefits that stem from a healthier workforce. Starting next year and through 2015, grants will be available totaling $200 million for small companies (with 100 employees or fewer) that start wellness programs focusing on nutrition, smoking cessation, physical activity and stress management. The Department of Health and Human Services will administer the grants.
(http://money.cnn.com/2010/05/12/smallbusiness/wellness_grants/index.htm) Workplace wellness programs benefit employees and employers. Various national studies have revealed that most employees spend at least half of their time at work, which provides the framework for a natural support system. If employees are involved in promoting their own wellbeing throughout the day, then cigarette breaks will turn into walking breaks.
Time spent waiting for the elevator will transition into climbing the stairs and act as a natural energy boost, increasing an employee's heart rate and blood flow at the very start of the day. Water coolfer chats will switch from what was on TV to a collective discussion focused on weekend plans on how to be more active. The more employers focus on the overall wellbeing of a workforce, the higher the likelihood that quality team members will stay with the company.
Team morale and worker productivity will skyrocket as insurance and bottom line costs shrink. Recent research illustrates that diseases once considered the norm for aging individuals, heart attacks and strokes, are becoming more prevalent for people in their 20s and 30s. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and hypertension. The main reason for this increase in illness is because most people are gaining too much weight from unhealthy eating habits and lack of physical activity.
A simple way to combat this is to have healthy, nutritious snacks such as fruits and vegetables available in the office, instead of the usual vending machine staples. Companies can also find ways to promote everyday activity. Once wellness programs are in place, how can HR and Benefits managers ensure a high rate of employee engagement? Offering a diverse range of options will increase the likelihood that they adopt at least one. Gym discounts are a great way to assist self-motivated individuals.
Some employees use the discount and purchase a membership with positive effect on their health and the bottom line of the company. However, the percentage of employees who are behaviorally ready to join a gym tends to be only in the 15-20% range. By creating a wide reaching program that is fun and easy to access, engagement rates will increase, because employees will want to participate.
For the majority of us who know we should be more active but struggle to make it a habit, the path to success is finding time in our daily routine and having multiple paths towards success. This is why a program with low barriers to entry is essential. When more employees adopt a specific program there is better word of mouth promotion, and a higher participation rate. Walking works wonders, and it is easy. There is no need to purchase anything more than a comfortable pair of shoes to start walking an hour each day.
A recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise revealed that in total, Americans average just 5,117 steps each day. When we look across the population that drives to work every day we see average numbers down as low as 1,500 steps per day. To put that into perspective, Australians averaged 9,695, the Swiss averaged 9,650 and the Japanese averaged 7,168. With one mile equaling about 2000 steps, the average American walks just over 2.5 miles each day with those in corporate America frequently doing far less. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39612832/ns/health-fitness/)
Becoming conscious of how much you walk each day is an excellent way to begin down the path towards better health. Effective tracking is important so that employees can monitor their progress toward a more active lifestyle. The tracking method needs to be non intrusive, so it can become a part of participants daily lives without creating additional process steps. Simplicity and automatic data upload eliminate a potential "excuse" point.
For those at the beginning of a path to a more active lifestyle, seemingly simple steps such as logging data into a computer or even "docking" a device become "reasons" to give up. We have seen some real results from employees simply walking more. Just six months after implementing a program to encourage employees to be more active each day, one of our client's workforces demonstrated remarkable results. They saw a 15.4% reduction in those at high risk based on HDL cholesterol levels, 17.0% decrease in those at high risk for high blood pressure, and a 6.9% decrease in those with a BMI level putting them at high risk.
All of that just from encouraging them to get more active while eliminating the hurdles to getting started!Another company offered the same program to its 800 employees. Fifty-eight percent of the workforce participated and experienced a dramatic and measurable change in weight, blood pressure and blood chemistry; the biometrics that affect employees' days out of the office, productivity/morale level, and insurance expenses.
Wellness goes beyond increased activity. Gym discounts and encouragement to walk more are important, but sometimes there are other mitigating factors keeping an employee's health down. Virtual nutrition coaches and virtual gyms offer employees the opportunity to work out in the comfort of their own home. Video guides and step-by-step instructions on simple workout routines avail an extra level of privacy for those workers who feel awkward or uncomfortable exercising in public.
With many companies going virtual, and the increased adoption of "work at home" days, these programs are an important addition to complete wellness programs. Other options should include smoking cessation programs, pre-natal care and disease management. Knowledge is power and the more well informed your employees are, the more they'll be prepared to make positive changes for themselves!
GlobalFit is a leading provider of benefits for healthy living. Readily accessible through employers and insurers, GlobalFit's broad selection of programs, products and services have been expressly designed to create a healthier world. Since 1992, GlobalFit's signature offering has been its gym network, the largest of its kind. The network now includes thousands of respected fitness centers, from well-known chains to independent facilities, in the U.S. and Canada.
GlobalFit's latest corporate program, "Destination: You," breaks new ground by combining step-based activity -- effortlessly verifiable through cutting-edge technology -- with education, community support and incentives to motivate large populations. For more information, please visit www.globalfit.com
About The Author
Andrew D. Greenberg:
Andrew Greenberg, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, develops and implements marketing and sales programs to ensure GlobalFit's continued growth. He also oversees market research, trend analysis, long-term planning and strategic alliances. Andy began his career with Lutron Electronics, the world's leading lighting control manufacturer, where he advanced to Project Manager.
In 1993, he co-founded FitLinxx, Inc., which he helped grow from its initial concept to the installation of its state-of-the-art, interactive technology at more than 700 fitness facilities in the U.S. and Europe. The FitLinxx system has assisted more than one million members in adopting healthier lifestyles. He most recently served as the company's Executive Vice President before moving to GlobalFit.