Activate Wellness Programs to Achieve Key Workforce, Bottom-Line Objectives
Audrey Boone Tillman
In today’s changing economic climate, companies are always looking for ways to balance financial responsibility and keeping employees happy in the workplace. Achieving employee satisfaction is one of the greatest challenges that managers face. Fortunately, many HR executives have discovered that company-sponsored wellness programs can help increase employee morale; while also lowering health care costs.
For many workers, ensuring personal health and wellness is a top priority. By helping employees put these goals into action and maintain a healthy lifestyle, companies can reap the financial and reputational rewards of a motivated and healthy workforce. Poor health can be expensive for employees and employers alike. In fact, the indirect costs of poor health, including missing work and reduced productivity, can be two to three times greater than the direct medical costs, according to the Partnership for Prevention.1
At a time when employer healthcare costs continue to increase, wellness programs present an easy, cost-effective way to help keep those costs in check. Consider that a 2012 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Education Trust2 found that the average annual premium for a family health care plan jumped to $15,745—30 percent higher than in 2007 and 97 percent higher than the average annual family premium 10 years ago.
With a new year upon us and recently proposed rules for employer-based wellness incentives on the table for 2014, now is a great time for benefits decision-makers to take stock of their wellness programs and find ways to cut their health costs, while keeping their employees healthy, happy and engaged.
Increase Employee Satisfaction Through Wellness
An effective wellness program takes a holistic approach to creating the right initiatives, including promoting learning and training opportunities, and developing incentives for employees to take advantage of preventive care and track their progress.
When asked what kind of wellness programs employees would be willing to participate in, the 2012 Aflac WorkForces Report3 found that 48 percent of employees said they would participate in a company-sponsored run, 69 percent of employees would participate in routine biometric screenings, 68 percent would participate in health fairs, and 67 percent would participate in a health-related seminar.3 These kinds of events can go a long way toward engaging employees and boosting employee morale.
The bottom line is that companies can help increase employee satisfaction by focusing on the well-being of their workforce. For example, the Aflac study found that 28 percent of workers said they would feel more satisfied and more loyal to their employer if their company offered more options to improve their health and lifestyle.3 Employees need to be aware that the success of any wellness program depends entirely on their level of participation and dedication. Fortunately, research shows that employees are increasingly open to the challenge of taking an active role in workplace wellness.
Put Goals into Action
Controlling stress, eating right, exercising and using preventive care are critical for employees to perform at their best. Yet, putting these goals into action might be difficult. In fact, the Aflac study found that 45 percent of workers say they don’t eat as well as they should and 71 percent of workers say they agree that they could be healthier if they exercised regularly.3 But the upside is that employees who participated in their employers’ wellness programs reported increased worker satisfaction—67 percent of workers who are currently offered and take part in a wellness program are very or extremely satisfied with their current job, and 73 percent agreed that their company takes care of them.3
The Aflac study revealed that 35 percent of employees were willing to change their lifestyle habits if it meant they could lower their health insurance premiums.3 In order to entice their workforce to participate, companies need to educate their employees about how better health can result in lower health insurance premiums. Companies with highly developed wellness programs should emphasize the beneficial outcomes rather than focusing on participation. Instead of giving traditional incentives, such as money for gym memberships, they could require that employees pass health exams that provide screenings for several biometric measures, including cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood glucose levels, as well as a measurement of height, weight and body mass index (BMI). Employees who pass these screenings would receive discounts on their health insurance premiums, while employees who are unable to pass these assessments would be expected to enroll in a wellness program. They would then be eligible for discounts to their health insurance premiums when they achieve a healthy body mass index and other necessary biometric levels.
HR executives can also consider using social media to further engage employees in wellness programs. For example, a Facebook group for employees to share tips, healthy recipes, and goals to keep each other motivated. In addition, because employees often cite lack of time as a reason they can’t workout as often as they’d like, companies can offer flex time so employees can exercise during business hours. Finally, increase trust, interest, and participation in the wellness program by instituting a health committee made up of employees of all levels to help guide and form the program by incorporating feedback from their peers.
Reinforce Financial Well-Being
Creating a healthy workforce also means focusing on more than physical health. Financial security is another factor that influences overall wellness. Unfortunately, many workers today are facing financial difficulties and debt as a result of the recent recession. Financial strain, along with a lack of understanding of financial fundamentals can lead to enormous amounts of stress and lessen overall wellness.
The Aflac study found that only eight percent of workers strongly agree that their family will be financially prepared in the event of an unexpected emergency, while 51 percent are trying to reduce debt.3 Nearly 6-in-10 workers (58 percent) don’t have a financial plan in place to handle the unexpected, and the same amount either don’t consider health insurance a part of their financial plan or consider it a minor part.3 Clearly, many Americans are in a difficult financial position, which can have an impact on their ability to focus on their work.
Workers facing debt and unstable financial situations reported their stress has caused occurrences of ulcers, digestive problems, migraines, anxiety and depression. In fact, a 2012 study from the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) found that 83 percent of HR professionals said that personal financial problems have some or a large impact on the work performance of employees.4 In addition, the SHRM study found that more than half of employees said they have dipped into retirement savings in the past 12 months to make ends meet.4
As a result, employers are also feeling the effects of their employees’ anxiety, beyond higher healthcare costs. The Aflac study found that 1-in-5 (20 percent) workers have experienced a health issue that has affected their ability to get their work done, which can result in higher productivity losses for companies.3 Additionally, nearly half of companies (43 percent) surveyed estimated their average productivity loss stemming from employees’ concern over personal issues is between 11 and 30 percent, and productivity losses related to personal and family health problems cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee, per year, or $225.8 billion annually.,
These statistics show the negative impact companies face if their workers are not adequately protected by their current insurance coverage. Benefits decision-makers can help employees bridge these gaps by making voluntary benefits options readily available. Voluntary insurance plans are beneficial because they allow businesses to add coverage options at no additional cost to their company and at the same time help protect workers.
By making voluntary plans available to workers, companies can alleviate some financial concerns and help employees feel more protected in case of an unexpected health event. Workers have more positive feelings about their benefits options when they are offered or enrolled in voluntary plans. For instance, 70 percent of employees whose benefit packages include voluntary options feel that a comprehensive benefits package safeguards their health and wellness.3
Reap Bottom-Line Rewards
While having a healthy workforce is a worthwhile goal by itself, the financial rewards to companies are even better by instituting a preventive approach to health care. Employers will likely start to see reduced health care costs in the form of fewer sick days, fewer health care claims for lifestyle-related issues like smoking, and even a reduction in workers’ compensation claims and disability. And employees will also see reduced costs through lower out-of-pocket fees for medical visits and prescription medications.
Companies that have already implemented wellness programs report positive results. Nearly all (92 percent) of the companies with a wellness program in place agree that these programs are effective, and 47 percent report the programs are very or extremely effective.3 In addition, 44 percent of employers agree they are able to offer lower health insurance premiums as a result of their wellness program, and 61 percent of employeers agree they have a healthier workforce as a result of having a wellness program in place.3
With numbers like these, it’s easy to see the merits of a wellness program. Yet nearly a quarter of companies do not offer wellness programs, citing the difficulty in quantifying the return on investment.3 Wellness programs do more than help promote a healthier and happier workforce—they also have a considerable impact on a company’s bottom line. With attention building nationally around federal wellness programs that could extend employers’ health care cost savings, now is a great time to take that first—or next step toward having a more engaged workplace and healthier bottom line.
About The Author
Audrey Boone Tillman, a 15-year insurance industry veteran, is Aflac’s executive vice president of Corporate Services. She is responsible for all aspects of human resource management for Aflac’s more than 4,400 employees. She also oversees operations in the Facilities and Health Services divisions, as well as in Corporate Services, the Corporate Learning division and the Environmental Coordination area. During her tenure, Aflac has received multiple honors from FORTUNE magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, Working Mother magazine’s 100 Best Places for Working Mothers, BusinessWeek’s Best Places to Launch a Career, and Training magazine’s Training Top 125, among many others.
For more information about Aflac, call 1-800-99-AFLAC (1-800-992-3522) or visit [email protected].
1 Partnership for Prevention (2013), Worksite Health, www.prevent.org/Topics/Worksite-Health.aspx, accessed on January 17, 2013.
2 Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Education Trust, Employer Health Benefits 2012, http://ehbs.kff.org/pdf/2012/8345.pdf, accessed on January 17, 2013.
3 2012 Aflac WorkForces Report, a study conducted by Research Now on behalf of Aflac, January 24–February 23, 2012.
4 Society for Human Resources Management, Financial Education Initiatives in the Workplace 2012, http://www.shrm.org/Research/SurveyFindings/Articles/Pages/FinancialEducationInitiatives.aspx, accessed on January 17, 2013.