Health Plan

Corporate America Is Getting Healthy

Health CareWellness programs can help to reduce rising health-care costs. Here, a doctor and management expert provides five low-cost ways to implement corporate wellness initiatives.

Corporate America is getting healthy. According to the 2012 Deloitte Survey of U.S. Employers, 62% reported that they planned to increase their use of wellness and preventive health programs.

These companies are embracing the healthy trend for a variety of reasons. First, the atmosphere of wellness tends to motivate employees and improve worker loyalty. Second, and even more important to the financial well-being of these organizations, companies are finding that they can lower their rapidly rising health-care costs by reducing the amount of claims their employees make in a given year. Indeed, fewer doctor and hospital visits translate into lower premiums.

The organizations that are motivated to initiate wellness programs among their staffs – no matter how large or how small the company is – are the ones that end up being successful with it. All it takes is an ability to be creative with the resources in your area and finding alternatives to pricey initiatives.

Best of all, “bargain” wellness programs don’t only save you money on the front end – they can help a company’s bottom line in the future, too. A recent study published in Health Affairs that followed the costs and returns of several companies’ wellness programs revealed that medical costs fell $3.27 for every $1 spent on wellness. Furthermore, absenteeism costs fell $2.73 for every $1 spent.

That is precisely the kind of ROI that’s leading so many companies to adopt wellness strategies – both formal plans and informal tactics. Here are five inexpensive – and in some cases, free – workplace wellness ideas that are working for companies and professional organizations today.

Health Care Case StudyAsk for Support from Your Insurance Provider
If you provide health insurance for your employees, you need to tap into the resources available from your carrier. Insurers are all about health and wellness these days. After all, it’s in their best interests to keep you happy and your employees healthy, because that translates into year-after-year renewals and low claim costs.

Don’t be afraid to ask for and take advantage of what’s available. At the very least, your insurer should be able to provide a health risk assessment, and beyond that, most will cover the cost of having a health fair with biometrics. The labs can run through the medical claims so that should not be an extra charge.

If your insurer isn’t willing to help with a health fair, or if you are a small employer who doesn’t offer insurance, health risk assessments are available free of charge online – and you can collate the information yourself. Another great source is The Wellness Council of America provides all kinds of free stuff for the asking.

You should be able to check with other vendors, too, to see what kind of assistance and expertise can be provided. If you have an EAP vendor (Employee Assistance Program), this organization can and should assist with any behavioral health education or support. After all, that is what you pay them for.

In the same way, your worker’s compensation provider can do a worksite ergonomics assessment and instruct your employees about lifting and twisting properly to decrease injury on the job. And some payroll processors today are beginning to get into the business of health and wellness administration.

Partner with Local Medical Organizations
Especially if you do not provide insurance, get in touch with local medical organizations and ask for assistance. Keep in mind that a health fair is nothing more than offering a health risk appraisal or questionnaire for your employees, some biometric testing (like blood pressure and height and weight), and some free educational materials.

Specifically, it would be valuable to ask a local county medical society for the names of new doctors who have recently joined. They will be building their practice and would be happy to spend some of their free time taking blood pressures and getting exposure to the community in hopes of attracting new patients. Your local hospital might even be interested in providing a glucose screening to increase exposure to their diabetes program.

Approach Specialized Groups For Help
It may be the case that your organization is facing specific challenges. For instance, perhaps a significant percentage of your employees smoke or are overweight. Go after this low-hanging fruit by partnering with groups that specialize in addressing those issues. Often, their help can make a difference at little to no cost. Or, you can even barter some promotional products and promotional services that they use in their operations.

So, you’ll gain some workplace wellness help, as well as a new client. They may not be paying full price for your services, but having the names as customers on your client roster can only help in the local community.

Talk to organizations like the American Lung Association for smoking cessation programs, the American Diabetes Association, or your state’s smoking quit line (just about every state in the U.S. has one). They all offer free educational material you can use. Some will even come into your workplace and provide a lunch-and-learn program. Likewise, if you have 15 people to participate, Weight Watchers will come to your office and do a lunch program, too.

Rethink Incentives
We all know that people tend to participate most enthusiastically in any type of program when they’re working toward a reward. But if you’re like many smallbusiness leaders, you probably assume that incentives are only for big organizations, and that you’ll have to forgo them. After all, you just don’t have the budget to provide lavish perks.

That’s simply not the case. Everybody reacts to a reward, no matter how large or significant the prize is. Incentives for “good behavior” do not have to be huge TVs or trips abroad. Employees will jump at the opportunity to do remarkable things for the right to win a water bottle, T-shirt, special parking spot, or a few hours off. Provide incentives that are health-focused if at all possible, like three free visits to a local gym or a healthy lunch on the company.

These kinds of incentives should be built into your company culture, so that each time somebody chooses a healthy alternative, they’re rewarded for their actions. Even a points-based system with escalating rewards the more points an employee accrues, can change the wellness culture of an organization. The prizes don’t have to be terribly expensive, they only need to be meaningful to your audience. If you know employees would appreciate a Summer Hours program, for example, then maybe give all of them a goal to shoot for as far as health and wellness is concerned. If everybody achieves it, then the company can close at 3 p.m. on summer Fridays.

That’s just one example, but getting at the root of the motivation of employees is the key. Find out what would motivate them to change their behaviors, and you’ll begin to create an effective wellness program.

Create Health Committees
In some circles the word “committee” has a dubious reputation. But when it comes to staffing wellness programs in small companies, sharing the wealth by creating a wellness committee is the way to go. It is much better for a group of 10 to share responsibility for implementation, instead of dumping the entire task on one employee who already has a full plate.

Make one person in charge of the health fair. One can seek out educational material and programming. Another can make calls to get freebies for the incentives. Let each committee member choose which jobs he or she would prefer. A person who is tech-savvy may volunteer to do the fliers and promotional material, for instance.

Not only does this approach spread the work around so the program doesn’t become too onerous for one or two people to administer, but this also makes employees own it. If they’re responsible for certain aspects of the program, then they’re more likely to take part themselves and to promote it to others.

Peer pressure works when it comes to health. Wellness programs are best done as a group, because individuals left to their own devices often fall off the healthy wagon. By forming committees and putting more people in charge of as many aspects of the program as possible, you’re building in buy-in and participation.

Finally, once your “bargain” workplace wellness initiatives start to pay off, there’s one thing you shouldn’t skimp on: celebration. Whenever you achieve a goal, make a big deal about the achievement in order to maintain and increase morale. Recognize and publicly congratulate employees who pass milestones. Over time, you’ll create an affordable culture of wellness that’s good for your entire organization.

Dr. Carmella Sebastian was chief medical officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Northeastern Pennsylvania. She is also a nationally known wellness educator with a special interest in women at mid-life and women’s wellness. For more information, visit

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