Workplace Wellness Programs: Working Toward Health

workplace wellness

By Amanda N. Wegner

Chances are that by the time you have some free time in your day to read this, you’ve been sitting for a few (or many) hours. Maybe you’ve been squinting at a screen for most of that time. Maybe there were so many demands on your time — meetings, questions from coworkers, texts from your children, deadlines to hit — that the only sustenance you’ve had is a muffin and double-shot latte. And you’ll do it all again tomorrow with another eight- to-10-hour workday.

It doesn’t take long for those stresses — physical, mental, emotional, nutritional and more — to start taking a toll. Luckily, more and more employers recognize this and are making workplace wellness a priority.

“Our program helps educate employees and family members on relevant topics, it gets them moving to be more active and assists them in knowing their individual health numbers,” says Lisa Henke, risk/benefits manager for Walworth County, which recently received national recognition as one of the Healthiest Companies in America by Interactive Health. This is the sixth consecutive year Walworth County has won the award.

Here, businesses and wellness programming experts share how they’re making workplace wellness work for employees and how other businesses can be successful with their own workplace wellness efforts.

THE BUSINESS CASE FOR WORKPLACE WELLNESS

According to the CDC, treating people with chronic yet often preventable diseases, including heart disease, obesity and arthritis, accounts for 86 percent of our nation’s health care costs each year. These same health issues cost American employers more than $153 billion in lost productivity annually.

While the changes necessary to live healthier ultimately depend on the individual, employers can play an important role in helping employees see the value of adopting those behaviors and providing opportunities to support those changes.

“The healthier the employee, the more productive and engaged they will be at work,” says Andy Sennett, market sales executive with Aurora Employer Solution. “Health care costs are continuing to rise and by in large, employers are picking up the brunt of that expense. That’s why it’s more important than ever for employers to take a stake in the health of their employees.”

When planned and implemented appropriately, workplace wellness programs can have real results. For instance, Walworth County has seen increased productivity, lower absenteeism and lower health claims, says Henke.

“Since the start of our program we have seen a decrease in participants’ blood pressure, triglycerides and total cholesterol,” says Henke. “The percentage of employees who are in the ideal scoring bracket has increased by 25 percent, and those in the high-risk category has decreased by 50 percent.”

David Gosh, health and safety coordinator of Walworth’s Onvoy, a division of Badger Plug, says that he’s seen a number of employees become healthier thanks to the company’s workplace wellness program.

“We have a ‘Biggest Loser’ challenge and have seen employees lose weight and keep it off.  There are some people you can’t change, but there are a lot of employees who have started to care more about their health through this.”

TAILORED PROGRAMMING

Because each employer is unique, there is no cookie-cutter approach to workplace wellness. For many employers though, workplace wellness programming starts with knowing where their employee base is, which can be revealed with a health risk assessment (HRA) and/or biometric screening. Both Onvoy and Walworth County offer health risk assessments and biometric screenings for its employees each year.

“An HRA is a great tool to help you understand your workforce, get an understanding of lifestyle and behavior practices, and provide you a roadmap of where strengths and risks lie and how to move forward in addressing those,” says Melissa Reischl, wellness service manager with Aurora Employer Solutions. She explains that with these screening tools, each individual receives a wellness score. If a company is receiving mostly As and Bs, then programming should reflect ways to maintain their workforce’s high level of health. In contrast, a company with low scores has an opportunity to offer options such as fitness classes, educational programming and health coaching to help improve employee health.

Sennett adds that for some employees, “this might be their only brush with a health care professional. This screening is an opportunity to really grab their attention and help an employee understand what’s going on with their health.”

In fact, that was one of the main reasons Onvoy began offering HRAs and biometric screening back in 2002. “A lot of people don’t like to go to the doctor,” says Gosh, “but when it’s right here onsite, that quick check might open their eyes to some things.”

HRAs are not required at Onvoy, but participation is growing, thanks in part to a small incentive of two additional hours of paid time off. Once complete, Gosh uses the aggregate information from the HRAs to schedule quarterly mandatory wellness meetings for each of the company’s three shifts.

For Walworth County, screening participation is also voluntary, though participants are rewarded with lower health insurance premiums. Once the screening is complete, employees are also provided with health coaching from an outside vendor that assists employees in sharing their numbers with their physician.

“We do this to help employees prevent illness instead of react to an illness,” says Henke.

HRAs and biometric screening are just one part of Walworth County’s award-winning program. The volunteer Employee Wellness Council creates a robust annual program consisting of quarterly wellness challenges; lunch-and-learns; and weekly exercise classes, including yoga, Zumba, PiYo (a combination of Pilates and yoga), Piloxing (Pilates and boxing moves), over the lunch breaks or after work.

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