In the 15 years that a small metal finishing company has had an aggressive wellness program, the number of employees who smoke has decreased from 42 percent to 15 percent. The compliance rate could be due to the fact that non-smoking employees get automatic lower insurance premiums. However, the senior managers think employees are motivated by the program’s offerings, which include perks like a three-day, all-expenses-paid mountain climbing expedition in Colorado. The company also boasts insurance premiums that are 30 percent lower than comparable Midwestern outfits in their industry.
A small oil drilling company was losing tens of thousands of dollars per year in lost productivity, sick pay, and recruitment costs every time a worker was injured. Since it realized that a number of workers were at high risk for injury and even death based on their body mass indices, blood pressure levels, and age, they knew that they needed to take proactive steps to improve its workers’ health. The company worked with an independent wellness consultant who showed them that their savings could be up to $125,000 for each employee, which could amount to $2.5 million over the average 20-year employee lifecycle.
A small network security company in Florida has been able to decrease its employee turnover through a competitive fitness program that keeps employees engaged, energized, and feeling valued. In a survey, 92 percent of the company’s managers reported an improvement in their workgroups’ morale, motivation and effectiveness since the wellness program was introduced.
Wellness Program Benefits
While 82 percent of American businesses with more than 50 employees have some kind of health program, small businesses have been slower than large businesses to institute full-fledged wellness programs. However, for small businesses the stakes can be even higher: As illustrated in the case studies above, well-managed, strategic health and wellness programs can help small businesses minimize healthcare costs, reduce lost productivity, and attract and retain the best employees – all of which will ultimately impact their bottom lines and long-term viability. The risk of being complacent is higher for small businesses as well: “One big medical claim can just destroy the premium structure of a small company,” says Bill Kizer, founder of Wellness Councils of America (WELCOA).
Before deciding if a wellness program is right for your business, let’s first define what “corporate wellness” is. Wellness is not a static, unchanging state; it is “an active process of becoming aware of and learning to make healthy choices that lead toward a longer and more successful existence.” A wellness program can comprise on-site fitness centers and health coaches; healthy food offerings; ergonomic workstations; educational workshops in such topics as CPR, stress management and nutrition; Web-based support groups; competitive companywide activities, like weight loss contests and softball teams; screenings for conditions like skin cancer and diabetes; and health risk assessments.
A word should be included here about health risk assessments (HRA): These are surveys that gather baseline self-reported health data from each participating employee, which in turn are used by employers to create customized interventions. Learning of risk factors and feeling empowered to address them are often key motivating factors for employee participation. Other possible incentives are bonuses or other financial rewards; reimbursement; flextime; healthcare premium discounts, or contributions to tax-free health accounts.
How to Start
Creating an effective program has several components:
- Define your objectives, i.e. decreased absenteeism; better morale; healthcare cost savings.
- Specify your needs, i.e. uncover health problems in your workforce.
- Decide how you are going to address those needs, i.e. through a comprehensive in-house wellness program, or by starting small with discounted memberships to a local fitness center, for example. (If you need guidance, there are many private companies that offer wellness consulting, or you can seek information from organizations like the Red Cross, the American Cancer Society or the American Heart Association.)
- Determine how you will motivate employees to participate – with financial rewards, time off, or prizes
- Keep track of your progress, i.e. by periodically assessing program performance and participation levels and using internal communications to keep employees informed of new offerings.
Studies show that there are societal benefits to employee wellness programs as well: A report from the American Institute for Preventive Medicine states that employees who fall into 5 or more risk categories (stress; weight issues; high cholesterol; hypertension; lack of exercise; and smoking) generate three times more health-related costs than employees in only 1 to 2 categories. Additionally, employees who smoke one or more packs of cigarettes a day generate healthcare claims that are 18 percent higher than non-smokers; individuals with hypertension have health claims that are 11 percent higher, and being 30% or more overweight can result in 11 percent higher claims than being 20% overweight.
These may be some of the reasons that President Obama has highlighted prevention as integral to his health reform plans. As a small business, you should consider making wellness a central component of your short- and long-term growth strategy.