How to make your Client’s Wellness Program Work

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There aren’t many companies that would be opposed to saving an extra million dollars. That’s how much a 1,000-person company could save by implementing a corporate wellness program for their employees. Studies show that over 60% of Americans are either overweight or obese. A study by Duke University researchers reported that obese employees are 13 times more likely to miss work, and that they are 50% less productive than their peers.

Let’s do the math: Factor in the increased costs of healthcare for these employees, and the extra cost per overweight employee totals $1,500 per year. For a 1,000-person company with average obesity rates, that’s $1 million in extra expenses.

This scenario sounds like a valid reason for employers, and their benefit advisors that work with them, to think about instituting a corporate weight loss program. But wellness programs have often been viewed as a nice extra, not a strategic imperative, so employers are still dragging their feet, costing their companies money, and keeping their employees at risk.

Here are some tips on getting your client’s wellness program on track:

  • Capture senior-level support. Although employee health correlates with financial health, workers won’t buy into a program that’s just about money. A commitment from the top is critical to the success of any wellness initiative and nothing motivates employees more than seeing the boss lead by example. Link health promotion to business goals, values and strategic priorities, and emphasize improved employee productivity and health care cost savings.
  • Understand challenges. There are many factors that impact company-wide health patterns. Are your workers mostly in front of computers all day, or do they have the opportunity to move around? Does your workforce skew younger or older? Are you in a cold-weather climate that limits access to outdoor activities? What kind of food does your office/cafeteria offer?
  • Create a wellness team. Wellness teams should include a cross-section of people from all levels of your company to ensure broad ownership of the program, help garner buy-in from the rest of the company and make sure the program is responsive to the needs of all participants. These individuals will drive program development, implementation and evaluation.
  • Use financial incentives. When developing a financial incentive for a wellness program, employers need to consider their overall healthcare benefits strategy. How does the wellness program fit into their defined-contribution healthcare benefit allocations? Under the Affordable Care Act, a company can contribute more to some employees’ health benefits than others, and this includes making distinctions between those who achieve wellness goals and those who don’t. Whether you penalize employees or reward them, using their wallets to encourage a healthier lifestyle is a win-win proposition.

Corporate weight loss programs definitely work and they’ve been proven to help the bottom line. As healthcare costs continue to rise, and with the ACA’s Employer Mandate waiting to go into effect, it’s time for employers to prioritize employee wellness – for the good of both the company and it’s most important asset: its people.

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