Corporate Caretakers: The Place of Company Wellness Plans in the U.S

An emerging trend in the corporate world is the implementation of corporate wellness plans. These programs seek to improve their employees’ health through nutrition classes, smoking cessation, weight loss incentives and other rewards. In return, healthier employees allow for reduced health insurance costs which promise savings for the organization.

But these programs which have grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years have also had other impacts on productivity, satisfaction and the basic understanding of the employer and employee relationship.

Corporate Caretakers.The Place of Company Wellness Plans in the U.S.

Companies Who Care

Though it is difficult to measure the actual impact and return on investment, corporate wellness programs are widely viewed as positive programs. Companies that take measures to secure their employee’s well being are viewed in a pretty friendly light.

Whether it is because they truly care or want to soak up a positive portrayal, Facebook is considering the use of treadmill desks and LinkedIn already conducts walking meetings around its campus rather than in a boardroom.

“90% of employers offer wellness incentives, or financial rewards or prizes to employees who work toward getting healthier,” reports the Wall Street Journal.  This percentage is up dramatically from just 57% a few years earlier in 2009.

An article in the Tennessean conjectured that “this company-led wellness push also represents a major cultural shift—the idea of corporations as caretakers. Corporations, in turn, are working to balance caretaking and making money.”

The next major player to become a caretaker is the insurance companies themselves. The federal health exchange, which opened in October, will lead more people into a direct relationship with their insurer instead of going through their company. That has led some to predict that insurance companies will follow the wellness program trend, offering programs that reduce their risk.

However, many individuals believe in the purpose of corporate wellness initiatives. Employees see their companies’ health plans as a sign that they are valued. And organizations have capitalized on this as a human resource tool.

 

How Does a Corporate Wellness Work?

Wellness programs typically work by offering some kind of reward or incentive for employees who get involved in changing their health. However, health is not really something that you can regulate. Instead individuals have to take charge for themselves. So the trick in implementing a new corporate culture is to find ways to effectively motivate individuals.

The two most common formats are participatory programs and health-contingent programs. In a participatory setup, everyone is invited to participate in some kind of participant effort. Sometimes this is a class, an assessment or an activity. For joining, the employees receive some kind of reward or discount on their premiums.

But health-contingent programs ask employees to meet a specific goal. And only those who achieve the target receive the reward. Some of these goals include:

•Lowering blood pressure

•Losing a percentage of body weight

•Stopping smoking

These initiatives must be tailored specifically to each individual.

“The most effective incentives come from a value driven culture of health in a corporation,” says Sean Sullivan, president and CEO of the Institute for Health and Productivity Management. When companies make it obvious that they value their employees and care about their health, more than just health tends to improve. Most people become happier and more productive which is a win-win for the organization.

 

What About the Affordable Care Act?

Obamacare is careful to include and encourage such programs. The Affordable Care Act offers discounts of up to 30 percent of total cost for employees who participate in wellness initiatives. For individuals who stop smoking, the discount is authorized to max out at 50 percent.

However, because of the new role of federal oversight, JoAnn Volk, from the Georgetown University Center on Health Insurance Reform explains, “benefits may differ depending on your health status.” Since the Affordable Care Act links health plan costs with the health achievement in a wellness program, those who do or do not meet their wellness goals might see corresponding differences in the price of their health plans.

 

Creating Wellness

Corporate Caretakers.The Place of Company Wellness Plans in the U.S.. 2jpgBefore a company goes searching for corporate wellness plan providers, there are some important keys to keep in mind when it comes to implementing a health program.

1. Starting with Leadership

Corporate initiatives will only catch on if there is the leadership engagement. “If you don’t have it from the top, it won’t work,” says Jamie Mills of Mill’s Benefit Group. Everyone knows that the best way to lead is by example. And when management participates, the rest of the company will be more likely to get on board and act as a social unit with a common goal.

2. Value Your Employees

The heart of a corporate wellness initiative is not just about reducing risk and cost. It is also about investing in the employees’ health and wellbeing. The happier and healthier the employees, the more increasingly productive they become, observes Fox Business.

3. Changes that Last

A problem at the core of company health programs is the inability to measure effects over the long-term. Employees might lose weight, but they may put it back on in the next year. So it is important for organizations to have a long-term focus and make sustainability a high priority.

4. Bring in the Whole Family

The number one motivating factor for lifestyle decisions comes from a person’s family. So when companies introduce health programs, they should consider ways to involve their employees’ families as well. This may be through discounts which benefit the employee’s entire household or through programs which invite the entire family to participate.Corporate Caretakers.The Place of Company Wellness Plans in the U.S.. 3jpg

5. Use Employee Input

Perhaps the most important step of implementing a corporate wellness plan is to utilize your employees’ ideas and opinions. Talking to people and hearing what they desire and would find useful will help to implement a successful wellness strategy that will actually have the employees’ support and interest. This is a great way to maximize enthusiasm and engagement when reshaping corporate culture.

The world of corporate wellness is varied and extensive. With various plans and ideas, different companies seek to lower their risk and improve their employees’ experiences. And the result has created a new cultural idea of companies’ responsibility towards their employees.

Images from www.kansas-city-yoga.com, missioncrossfitsa.com, momentummag.com, www.odt.co.nz

 

What type of wellness programs have you initiated? How was it received?

Let us know your thoughts below, and please share this article via Twitter and LinkedIn below.

 

 

6 responses to “Corporate Caretakers: The Place of Company Wellness Plans in the U.S”

  1. Great article Jessica … here is the real tragedy about wellness in the healthcare industry. The people who need a healthier workplace and an administration who cares … are the very ones who are either exempt from these types of programs or are not targeted by them. I am talking about the physicians and other front line providers.

    In the vast majority of organizations the doctors spend the day on their individual gerbil wheels, putting their patients first and battling with the EMR and other workplace hassles. They don’t participate in HR initiatives … seeing themselves as set apart from “normal employees” … and don’t have time to squeak wellness activities into their days. This is – in part – why 20 years of burnout prevalence studies show an average of 1 in 3 doctors are burned out on any given office day.

    There are several keys to implementing a physician wellness (or burnout prevention) Program that will have impact
    1) The administration has to care about the health and wellbeing of the doctors and realize it is the key to quality care and patient satisfaction going forward
    2) You must fill the hole in the doctor’s education around burnout and its prevention
    3) Survey your docs for their biggest stressors and run active projects to address them with full budgetary support
    4) Include them in onsite wellness activities the rest of the staff participate in – and invite them peer to peer personally

    This is just a start … and in healthcare, you can’t gloss over or exempt the docs from wellness programs and expect them to have a meaningful impact.

    My two cents,

    Dike
    Dike Drummond MD
    http://www.TheHappyMD.com

  2. Great article Jessica … here is the real tragedy about wellness in the healthcare industry. The people who need a healthier workplace and an administration who cares … are the very ones who are either exempt from these types of programs or are not targeted by them. I am talking about the physicians and other front line providers.

    In the vast majority of organizations the doctors spend the day on their individual gerbil wheels, putting their patients first and battling with the EMR and other workplace hassles. They don’t participate in HR initiatives … seeing themselves as set apart from “normal employees” … and don’t have time to squeak wellness activities into their days. This is – in part – why 20 years of burnout prevalence studies show an average of 1 in 3 doctors are burned out on any given office day.

    There are several keys to implementing a physician wellness (or burnout prevention) Program that will have impact
    1) The administration has to care about the health and wellbeing of the doctors and realize it is the key to quality care and patient satisfaction going forward
    2) You must fill the hole in the doctor’s education around burnout and its prevention
    3) Survey your docs for their biggest stressors and run active projects to address them with full budgetary support
    4) Include them in onsite wellness activities the rest of the staff participate in – and invite them peer to peer personally

    This is just a start … and in healthcare, you can’t gloss over or exempt the docs from wellness programs and expect them to have a meaningful impact.

    My two cents,

    Dike
    Dike Drummond MD
    http://www.TheHappyMD.com

  3. Corporations are starting to realize that Benjamin Franklin was right two centuries ago when he said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And they’re seeing productivity benefits too. So why not extend these programs nationally across all of society?

    The political debates surrounding health reform have focused too narrowly on how to PAY for care, and who to burden most. But the biggest savings will come from improving the efficiency & effectiveness of Care Delivery, and reducing the need for it in the first place through wellness.

    Dr. Drummond lamented in his comment that physicians don’t generally participate in these wellness programs. A related problem is what they are taught, or not taught, in medical school. They learn a lot about how to diagnose and treat illness and injury, because that supports the industry’s fee-for-service business model. But they learn little about the pillars of health: exercise, nutrition, and sleep.

    • Thanks Wayne

      Agree, we need to start change at the core, during medical school and make it easier for physicians to do their job. Less paperwork, reduce the EMR time, and give back more time to patients.

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