Cut costs, improve quality of life and keep workers happy.
by Laurie Wink
“Who has time to exercise?” is a common refrain in our tightly scheduled, overcommitted society. And, in spite of intentions to eat better, our fallback plan too often is a quick, high-fat meal grabbed on the run.
We all know a healthy diet and regular exercise are the keys to a quality life, but we can come up with plenty of reasons for not moving more and eating less.
But what if you were encouraged to engage in healthy activities at your workplace? It's a fact that people are more likely to participate when given the option of taking care of their health at their workplace. And employees who adopt healthy behaviors generally are able to reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases, gain a better self-image, improve their attitude and miss fewer days of work.
Employers benefit from increased employee productivity, improved morale, reduced insurance costs and an enhanced company image. Under optimal conditions, employers can get a $6 return on every $1 invested in on-site health care, according to Connie Bryan.
Bryan, an RN, founded OnSite Health 10 years ago to provide customized health and wellness services to employers. The South Bend-based company now handles wellness programs for 200 companies with workforces ranging from 50 to 5,000.
Before starting OnSite Health, Bryan was a full-time nurse at a large manufacturing company. Workers would often complain about fatigue and low energy levels. “As a nurse, I knew what that meant. With an obese and aging workforce, the risk of chronic disease is there.”
Using a free lunch as an inducement, Bryan initiated a blood pressure screening event and started doing other health screenings. As employees made changes that improved their health, she began to get calls from family members who wanted similar services at their workplaces. “I decided to take the show on the road and affect change with more people in more places,” she says.
Bryan starts with basic health screenings and assessments. She meets with individuals to review results and make recommendations. It's not uncommon to find employees with life-threatening conditions that require immediate medical treatment, she says.
Companies contract with OnSite Health for a range of wellness services, including individual coaching and scheduled meetings with nurses. OnSite Health works with all sizes of companies to develop customized programs tailored to employee needs, rather than deliver cookie cutter programs. “I've found that everybody is so different,” Bryan says. “We go into a company and try to figure out what the high risks are so we can develop a program. Some business sectors have far more stress because of what they do.”
Smart Cabinetry, a manufacturer of customized kitchen cabinets located in New Paris, started using OnSite Health services several years ago with good results, says Amy Wells. As human resources director, Wells oversees the wellness program for the company's 190 employees, 98 percent of whom participate.
Employees have the option of an annual wellness screening, and can choose to take part in a program that sets individualized goals for lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose levels and reducing other health risk factors. Employees who achieve all of their goals can reduce their health insurance premiums by up to $720 a year, according to Wells.
Smart Cabinetry's contract includes twice-weekly visits by Connie Bryan and her daughter, Lauren, both registered nurses. “Connie is so passionate,” Wells says. “She works with family doctors to advocate for [employees]. When they go to her about an issue, it may or may not be work related. Unless it's life-threatening, we don't need to know about it. It's strictly confidential.”
The OnSite Health team of nurses educates people about healthy choices and encourages them to take personal responsibility. “Our role is to get people to want to make changes,” Bryan says. “We say ‘Let's set reasonable goals and take baby steps.' We keep tweaking along the way.”
Tami Janda, wellness coordinator for Centier Bank, acknowledges the difficulty employees have in making lifestyle changes. She started Centier's wellness program in 1995, when President and CEO Michael Schrage brought the concept to the human resources team. Janda jumped on the assignment, explaining “I've always been passionate about leading a healthy lifestyle. I walk the talk.”
Centier began by offering monthly educational sessions on health issues and providing wellness screenings. The program has evolved to include reduced health care premiums for participants and partial reimbursement for fitness center memberships, trainers and fitness trackers. Centier has an annual health fair where attendees can win gym memberships, gas cards and other prizes.
Janda coordinates on-site wellness programs with OurHealth, a private company based in Indianapolis. The 300 Centier employees at the Merrillville corporate headquarters have access to an on-site fitness center, a health coach, therapist and lunch support groups for issues such as grief, weight management and sleeping disorders. Employees can pay for amenities such as massage therapy, reflexology and manicures.
Janda says one of the most popular initiatives is the walking pedometer program offered at all Centier locations. In December, a “Stepping with Santa” activity encouraged three-person teams to virtually walk from Merrillville to the Southwest Indiana community of Santa Claus, a distance of more than 200 miles. The team approach gets people involved because of peer pressure, she notes.
The wellness program helps Centier achieve its goal of being an employer of choice. The company consistently ranks among Indiana's top ten employers and has an employee turnover rate of less than ten percent, according to Janda.
“We have a caring, fun working environment. As far as the bottom line, when someone feels better about themselves, they're going to be happier and more productive. For the most part, the two go hand in hand.”
Ryan Tedeschi handles wellness programs for some 9,000 employees of NiSource, which operates utilities in seven states. Tedeschi, a senior benefits analyst, says, “I believe your greatest asset in life is your health. At NiSource, we focus on offering the tools and education to our employees so they can maintain a healthy lifestyle for themselves and their families.”
Tedeschi is based at corporate headquarters in Merrillville and travels to NiSource locations in all seven states. The headquarters and other larger locations have employee fitness centers equipped with free weights, workout machines and classes, including aerobics and yoga.
As with many other employers, NiSource began its wellness program by offering on-site health screenings aimed at early detection of health risks such as elevated blood pressure and cholesterol. Tedeschi says the corporate wellness program has continued to expand. In 2014, discounts on Fitbit activity trackers were offered for the first time. A large number of employees purchased the devices, Tedeschi says. “The challenge for NiSource, because employees are widespread, is to include everyone, and this was a good wellness item to have available.”
NiSource recently began offering a “wellness day” to eligible employees who want to schedule a day off for health-care appointments. Another recent addition to the wellness options is the “New Year, New You,” a team-based weight loss program that engages employees in spirited competition, Tedeschi says. “We make it simple and fun to get people to participate, not complicated where you have to fill out a bunch of paperwork.”
As part of a strategy to manage health care costs, Methodist Hospitals launched an employee health and wellness program in July at its Northlake campus in Gary and Southlake campus in Merrillville. Each campus has a fitness center where employees can exercise before or after work or on breaks. About 1,000 of the more than 2,400 employees are participating in the voluntary program, according to Penny Holsclaw, an RN and program supervisor.
Sally Ramirez, director of compensation and benefits, works with Holsclaw on wellness initiatives and says, “It's been a really great program and has exceeded our expectations. Employees come up to us to say, ‘Thanks.' They're happier and are helping their families too.”
Methodist Hospitals partners with HumanaVitality, a wellness and rewards program that provides tools and support to help participants live healthier lives and improve the bottom line for the employers. Employees can work their way up through a series of status levels by achieving specific goals–beginning with a health risk assessment measuring stress, sleep, diet, exercise and other factors. The program's five-pronged approach encompasses fitness, prevention, education, healthy living, and financial fitness. Employees can earn points in each area. Those who achieve Silver status receive health care premium reductions.
“For some employees that's been a motivator,” Holsclaw says. Besides health insurance reductions, employees earn points that can be redeemed at the HumanaVitality online store for rewards such as Amazon.com and Target gift cards, fitness devices and exercise equipment.
Ramirez joined the human resources department a year ago and was pleased that Methodist Hospitals had a workplace wellness program. “I've always wanted to bring a wellness program to employees but my prior employers didn't want to put forth the money,” she says. “It's not a free program by any means.”
Ramirez has gained valuable insights into her own health since joining Methodist Hospitals. “When I started, I didn't own a scale and didn't know my weight. I thought of myself as an average size, but I was really surprised when I had to get on the scale.”
Now, Ramirez uses a FitBit to motivate her to get in 10,000 steps a day and has gotten her husband involved in the wellness program. “I've lost 15 pounds without sacrificing anything,” she says. “The bonus for me is I'm doing a better job of taking care of myself. I'm aware and acting on that awareness.”
Holsclaw has been a registered nurse for 20 years and has seen the long-term complications that come from chronic diseases. She says, “If we can help our employees be healthier themselves, not only does the hospital save money but we have happier employees.”
For most employers, common chronic health conditions–heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity, arthritis and diabetes–are costly and largely preventable problems that affect productivity and competitiveness. Employers can lower their employees' risk of developing costly chronic diseases by initiating workplace health and wellness programs that encourage employees to make healthy choices and lifestyle changes. By promoting worker health, companies are increasing productivity and reducing health care costs.
The bottom line? Wellness programs can keep both employees and employers healthy and happy.