Wellness at Work Pays Off
But you must motivate employees to take part
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Once the right wellness programs are in place, getting people to take advantage of the programs can be just as demanding. Ireland believes the success of HMSA’s HealthPass, which is a free health-risk assessment, is largely because one-on-one coaching keeps members focused on their goals and they get expert support throughout the process. Since HealthPass started in 1990, HMSA has expanded its resources to offer health-education classes, Web-based learning and live consultations with health coaches.
“We’re definitely moving away from the one-size-fits-all approach,” Ireland says.
Each year, 25,000 to 30,000 HMSA members sign up for HealthPass and, starting in 2003, it began taking the program directly to worksites. HealthPass currently performs on-site health-risk screenings for about 130 employers annually.
“We’re trying to remove any barriers from getting people engaged in healthcare and a healthier lifestyle,” Ireland says. “Employers are starting to see that they have a unique role in helping with the issue of healthcare costs, so by bringing HealthPass to the worksite, they’re helping all of us do our part in trying to bend the curve. We truly believe that prevention is a long-term strategy.”
Castle Medical Center’s Davidann says it’s always helpful to have a few people within the organization that can serve as cheerleaders to motivate others. In the past, Castle organized a wellness challenge modeled after the TV show “The Amazing Race.” Teams visited various stations linked to physical fitness, stress management and healthy eating. “When you make wellness fun, employees are more engaged with each other, team and department pride are obvious and people are very encouraging to one another,” Davidann says. “And the biggest payoff of all is that people really seemed to be more focused on living a healthier, active lifestyle.” About 25 percent of Castle’s 1,000-plus employees participate in its wellness program.
Incentives, such as paid time off to work out, cash rewards, discounts on educational workshops and even trips to Vegas, also work. “It doesn’t have to be like dangling carrots in front of them all the time,” Moncrief says. “I think it’s true that it often takes a health scare to get people motivated but it’s also important to try to get them self-motivated because that’s when the lasting change will occur. Cash incentives will only work for so long.”
Handing an overweight person a gym membership and telling him or her to be more active is not as effective as providing a health coach, Allen says. Another essential component is that upper management needs to walk the walk, too, and set a good example for employees. Wellness can’t just be something a company does because it wants to lower health-insurance premiums; it needs to become a part of the corporate culture.
Last year, UHA started an exercise group that met twice a week for one hour during normal paid work hours. The company rented space in its building, hired a fitness trainer and about 60 associates lost a total of 173 pounds in six months. They worked out in honor of Dani, an employee who had severe diabetes and died from kidney failure. “We knew Dani was ill but we really didn’t do enough,” says Botticelli. “So we decided that we needed to get more proactive and if we can identify employees who are at risk, then we’re going to do whatever we can to get rid of those risks. That’s why we offer regular health-risk assessments for all of our employees.” Botticelli said despite a strong start, after about six months, participation dwindled and UHA later put a hold on Dani’s Group to re-evaluate the program’s impact and approach.
Moncrief warns there are risks when employers habitually start and stop programs every time they fail. “It can wear the employee out,” she says. “Then the credibility of the employer is at risk.” The better approach is for companies to collect business intelligence about their population and then implement targeted programs in a way that will be most effective. “Be transparent about the costs involved and let the employees know what the company’s investment is,” Moncrief says. “Show them the benefits of the program and how it could have a positive impact on their health and well being. Most importantly, get their feedback before implementing a program so you don’t waste time and money.”
UHA associates can also earn points by attending regular physical examinations, exercising three times a week or joining wellness groups. “The idea of our wellness groups is for employees to support each other,” Botticelli says. When they reach a certain number of points, employees are eligible for up to eight hours of paid time off every six months. UHA spends about $103,000 on its wellness programs annually.
Allen, who also chairs the Nutrition and Physical Activity Coalition’s Worksite Wellness Task Force, would like to see a tax credit for employers who offer approved wellness programs. NPAC’s state director, Jennifer Dang, offers another way to guide employees. “Don’t offer the chips and candies in the vending machine and also offer healthier snacks,” she says. “Make the healthier alternatives the only choice. It’s important to remember that you can change behavior by what you have available.”
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