Regardless of company size, reducing health insurance costs has become the highest priority for most companies in the U.S., as employee health care costs continue to outpace inflation and earnings growth.

Companies are starting to realize the significant impact employee wellness has on their bottom-line.

Successfully getting employees to actively participate in the wellness program is key. The following suggestions will hopefully inspire you to take work wellness programs seriously, and help you implement one in your own workplace.

The obesity epidemic could cost you your job... The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates health care costs at $147 billion annually, citing that two-thirds of Americans are now overweight.

Private industries are experiencing close to $45 billion a year in employee related medical expenses. It’s a financial burden many companies can no longer bare. Chronically sick employees can be crippling to businesses, both large and small, and can even lead to layoffs, company closures and bankruptcy. In the end, everybody suffers.

Implementing a comprehensive company wellness programs is a win-win for both the employers and employees. Clearly, employee attendance and productivity, and employee health are closely connected. Healthier employees lead to better attendance and increased productivity, lower company healthcare costs, and ultimately a healthier bottom-line.

Preventable conditions account for most health care costs

Nearly 70 percent of costs associated with health care are due to preventable conditions. New data indicates that companies that have moved away from managing the cost of illness and have moved toward valuing their employees abilities to manage their health also lowered company risk for large catastrophic healthcare claims; and will pay less in health care costs in the long run.

As an example, IBM spends more than $1.3 billion a year on health care for the 450,000 employees, retirees, and family members it covers in the United States. Its long-term investment in empowering employees to be proactive in adopting healthier behaviors has paid off. Their wellness program saved the company $190 million in health care costs, according to a 2009 report

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that stress costs American businesses $300 billion dollars a year; and a 2012 Workplace Survey done by the American Psychological Association reported that many Americans suffer from chronic work-related stress.

Not only do wellness programs help lower health care costs, the programs also help create a sense of community and a healthier office culture. Some of the larger companies have campus type cultures. Smaller companies can also do a lot to promote wellness in the workplace by implementing memberships with local health care and fitness services.

According to OnlineMBA.com, nearly one-third of American employees report feeling underappreciated by their direct supervisors. Worse, 44 percent report having been verbally or even physically abused by a superior at some point in their careers. “Bosses behaving badly” has a tremendous financial impact on business. According to the featured article:

“Between stress-related health expenses, productivity losses and the costs associated with high employee turnover rates, bad bosses are costing U.S. companies an estimated $360 billion each year.”

What will motivate employees to take better care of themselves?

Companies are well advised to take a simple survey to find out which programs most interest their employees. This also gives small and larger business owners the opportunity to start with a couple of programs and expand as needed.

Empowering wellness programs and simple tools that focus on preventative health that Mercola.com and other companies offer to assist their employees in lifestyle modification include:

1.       Fitness Programs

·         Onsite gym with a variety of workout equipment and free-weights

·         Classes in Yoga, Dance, Aerobics, Tai Chi, etc.

·         Onsite trainers and class instructors to help employees customize their workouts

·         Paid off-site gym memberships

·         Organized office team sports and activities: bowling, softball, group walks during breaks, bicycling, weekend hikes, etc.

·         Encourage staff to use the stairs instead of taking the elevator

·         Provide a secure site for bicycles to encourage cycling commuters

2.       Healthy Work Place Food Choices

·         Cater office lunches by local Health Food Stores providing organic foods

·         Offer gift certificates to local organic restaurants and/or health food stores

·         Provide organic tea and coffee

·         Replace processed food and soda vending machine choices with sparkling/mineral water, nuts, dried fruits and other healthier choices

3.       Educational Seminars and Classes (at lunch or after hours)

·         Offer classes by local chefs on how to prepare healthy meals, preparing proper food portions, and how to create healthy snacks

·         Offer educational courses by local experts and/or authors on specific related topics, such as:

Comprehensive weight loss program leading to sustainable lifestyle changes

How healthy foods improve hormonal balance

How to avoid and reverse diabetes

How healthy foods and natural hygiene improve dental health

Risks of a fast food diet

Foods associated with allergies and migraines

What are the best types of dairy products?

Stress management strategies

How fluoride in water affects health

Infant and child wellness, including risks vs. benefits of vaccines

 

4.       Mental and Emotional Tune-ups

·         Onsite Health Clinics offering: chiropractic, physical therapy, chair massage, nutritionists, etc.

·         Discounts or Free services provided by an alliance of off-site specialist

·         Employee Assistant Program providing confidential access for employees and their immediate family members to professional counseling services for short-term help in confronting such personal challenges as: alcohol and other substance abuse; marital and family difficulties; financial or legal issues, and emotional distress

·         Also provide appropriate referrals to community and private services for long-term challenges

More Tips for Creating a Healthy Work Environment

Successfully getting employees to actively participate in the wellness program is key. Many companies offer incentive programs to motivate employees to engage, set goals, and be rewarded once they have succeeded in reaching their goals. Using a point based reward system is a great option. This system doesn’t have employees competing with each other.

They are rewarded points that can be used for cash bonuses, free travel, shopping sprees, a month supply of healthy groceries, and/or gift certificates, for example. Making company announcements on employee successes also helps encourage and inspire others to participate in wellness at the workplace. Health care insurance companies are also utilizing incentive programs. When companies implement wellness programs, insurance companies lower their premiums.

Additional Helpful Practices

·         Design ergonomic work spaces

·         Job sharing

·         Flexible hours

·         Eliminate fluorescent lighting

·         Designated areas for nursing mothers

·         Larger companies can provide assistance with daycare

You can also make a difference by encouraging your co-works bringing healthy sack lunches and eating together, to go on group walks at lunch, to exchange healthy recipes and lifestyle improvement strategies, organize an evening at local gym followed by a healthy meal, and more.

Wellness in the workplace definitely matters. Hopefully, these suggestions will inspire you to take work wellness programs seriously, and help you implement one in your own workplace.

What can the military teach?

Vikram Khanna • I looked at a number of wellness issues in the military a couple of years ago. The wellness/fitness problem in the military actually bifurcates into two distinct paths. The first is that many recruits (not including Marines) fail to meet basic fitness standards and thus require PT remediation even before going to basic training.

The second path is more complex.

Active duty personnel have far fewer wellness-sensitive events and diagnoses than do people in the general population (even after adjusting for age).

Despite this, the military has had to labor quite hard to keep people fit enough to fight.

One prominent example is adopting the NuVal food scoring system to help personnel make better dietary choices. Another is ensuring that people understand the consequences of sloth. Failure to meet PT requirements blocks advancement which, in turn, affects retirement pay if you are aiming for career service.

In 2009, I was watching a platoon of Army recruits engage in pre-basic training PT not too far from a similarly situated group of young Marine recruits, in Howard County, MD. The Marine recruits, under the watchful eye of a Corporal, were just blowing the Army recruits up, almost embarrassingly so, and the Army kids knew it.

 I walked over to the Corporal and chatted for awhile, asking him to talk to me about the very visible difference. He smiled and very politely said, "Sir, we are Marines, and Marines have standards. They wouldn't meet our standard." Maybe that's what we can learn from wellness/fitness in the military.