Business of Well-being

Wellness is Not Just about Health!

Wellness is Not Just about Health!

With President Obama winning his second innings at the White House, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), and its implementations are back in focus. Healthcare is prime and central for the coming decade and more, but the axis has shifted more toward wellness awareness and prevention than ever before.

We have seen numerous products both in the B2C and B2B markets to address holistic human wellbeing and rightfully so, given this day and age's stressful living conditions. Life, as we know it today is all about being swift, competitive, with immediate results and instant gratification. Lifestyle diseases such as obesity, smoking & alcohol consumption, sedentary living and work-home stress are on the rise.

PPACA has provisions related to address wellness concerns. It doesn't confirm just to care for the sick, but promotes preventive engagement. Right from advocating requirements for nursing mother accommodations and breaks at work, restaurants educating patrons by posting food calories, waivers of preventive screening co-pays for employer medical plans and Medicare, wellness grants to small businesses to implement programs, a requirement for national data on wellness program effectiveness, increase in health status based incentives and demonstration projects of wellness programs in various states; PPACA has requirements for implementation from 2010 through 2014.

Wellness programs serve a dual purpose in the hands of executive teams of organizations that deploy them. They help increase and sustain employee productivity and engagement, uphold employee safety and workability while reducing unwanted absences, and further, help attract and retain the best in talent due to pro-employee programs. Besides, they speak highly of organizational vision, mission and social responsibility.

Wellness programs, as we know them today, are organized, employer-sponsored programs designed to support employees and their families as they adopt and sustain behaviors that reduce health risks, improve quality of life, enhance personal effectiveness, and benefit the organization's bottom line. The simple truth of the matter is that healthier employees cost less. Employees with chronic health conditions often cost the bulk of healthcare costs.

In reality, companies that have effectively developed a wellness culture also realize cost savings in reference to retention, recruitment, reputation, and employee engagement. In general, wellness programs have been combinations to varying degrees of biometric screening, immunizations, health risk appraisals, wellness coaching, health fairs, workplace initiatives and competitions, gym memberships, health portal/website, mobile health messaging, healthy food choices for vending machines & cafeteria, and onsite health classes.

Over the years, it has been established that comprehensive wellness programs have a positive ROI for organizations besides the intrinsic value they provide the employees and the employer. The ROI has been established to be anywhere in the range of 3:1 to as much as 6:1. Further, 9 out of 10 executives vouch for the intrinsic & extrinsic advantages of these programs for the organization.Nowadays, health related wellness programs involve skilled planning and incentive management to kick off successfully and to keep employees engaged over a period of time.

Sustained healthy behaviors among employees have a lot to do with improving a company's bottom line, and a continuous health awareness culture is necessary in realizing these returns. Technology intervention has played a pivotal role in keeping employees engaged in these wellness programs besides being instrumental in collecting and managing related data to monetize progress.

Organizations who have gone down the path of health related wellness programs for a prolonged period of time have vouched for the return on investment it provides and as a result, more corporate organizations have chosen the route. Organizations that have embraced health wellness prerogatives have shown year over year healthcare benefits cost decreases and lower out-of-pocket costs for employees.

For the dollars spent on implementing & executing these wellness programs besides the incentives provided to employees, there is much to gain in the long term in costs saved; not just in healthcare costs but in increased productivity and hours gained.

Workforce Wellness, during the 1990s was not a strategic initiative for organizations; it was more a "nice to have". With tax incentives and grants available as a part of the recent healthcare regulations, U.S. organizations can not only leverage wellness programs as strategic value creators for the organization, but can also help minimize healthcare costs. Now, let's review some statistics about healthcare costs and workplace wellness to get a perspective on their impact on organizations:

  • Approximately 150 million people in the United States receive their healthcare coverage through employer-sponsored group health plans. (Kaiser Family Foundation. The Uninsured: A Primer. December 2010.)
  • Employers spent more than $8,500 per active employee on healthcare coverage in 2011, 76 percent of the $11,176 total cost, with employees covering the balance. (Towers Watson; National Business Group on Health. The Road Ahead: Shaping Health Care Strategy in a Post-Reform Environment; 2011.)
  • According to a 2012 annual market survey, about 35 percent of companies reported using rewards or penalties based on smoking or tobacco-use status in 2012, and another 17 percent of companies plan to add such incentives in 2013. (Towers Watson; National Business Group on Health. Employer Survey on Purchasing Value in Health Care; 2012.)
  • It is estimated that as much as 75 percent of total U.S. healthcare spending is for people with chronic conditions. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Four Common Causes of Chronic Disease. April 2012.)
  • Just four modifiable health risks (tobacco use, poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, and excessive alcohol consumption) are responsible for much of this chronic disease burden. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Four Common Causes of Chronic Disease. April 2012.)
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States during the past 20 years, and rates remain high. About one-third of U.S. adults are obese and approximately 17 percent (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents from the ages of 2 to 19 are obese. The CDC also stated that in 2010, no state had an obesity level of less than 20 percent, with 36 states indicating levels above 25 percent.

As can be seen, organizations are no longer looking at wellness as a "nice to have" but as a strategic goal. By just putting the employees on the path to prevent chronic conditions by caring about their health, a mass savings in healthcare costs can be seen. Extend the offering to the entire employee base, better yet, and their immediate families; imagine the savings, not just from a cost standpoint, but from a productivity and much healthier and happier workforce perspective. According to Kaiser Family Foundation's Employer Health Benefits 2012 Annual Survey,

  • Over 63 percent of firms offering health benefits offer some type of wellness programs to their employees, and 60 percent of those offer the wellness benefits to employee spouses or dependents.
  • 80 percent of firms offering health benefits & wellness programs offer some kind of incentive to employees who participate.

Holistic employee wellness programs do not just have to be centered on health. They can go way beyond that into influencing all round wellbeing of employees and their families. There are a few organizations that have been doing so, and some that are just waking up to this. The ones doing it have been seen as those with deep pockets that are giving away premium perks to keep their talent in-house.

But, truly speaking; deep pockets do not have anything to do with it and the results themselves speak to the effectiveness of these programs. For instance, organizations such as Google, Yahoo, Apple, Facebook etc. are known to give away perks around employee wellbeing that job aspirants look forward to. But, there are lesser known organizations that are doing similar things from a strategic point of view.

Take away chores that an employee would normally spend time on, provide a subsidized hire to get them done on the employees' behalf, and what do you have? An employee willing to put that time back into work. If a working couple has a sick child, one of them generally takes off. Offer a subsidized babysitter at home, the employees would be willing to get back to work knowing their child is taken care of.

Besides, the employees develop immense regard for an organization that cares for them and their families, all of which translates into unbounded productivity fueled by organizational pride. One example that comes to mind is USAA. For the past 3 years, Computerworld has put the organization as the No.1 place to work.

And who put it there, the employees! As a part of a rich benefits package, USAA offers its employees a subsidized health plan, a variety of free health screenings, free access to three on-campus gyms, 24 days of vacation after a year on the job, annual tuition reimbursement benefit of $10K, subsidized child care, $5 an hour errand service, 401K matches and flexible staffing models to improve work/life balance.

That sounds like a lot of dollars being spent, doesn't it? What the organization gets back in return is a highly motivated, willing, and healthy workforce with minimal physical or mental worries that ensures a remarkably great job. This is further fostered by organizational pride and as a result, the organization is doing extremely well year over year. At the end of the day, isn't that what any executive team strives for; a well performing organization backed by best in class employees.

About the Author

Rajeev Mudumba is an HRO and Health & Wellness expert with over 18 years of leadership experience in the HRO, Health & Wellness and Technology Consulting industries. His distinguished record of accomplishment and innovation includes high level strategy and ideation, precise execution and enhanced focus on efficiencies through the use of technology in business across various verticals. Follow Rajeev on Twitter @HifromRaj;

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