Wellness Programs: A Proactive Approach To Healthy Corporate Finances

If you’re not pairing your healthcare coverage with a robust wellness program, you’re addressing only part of the issue you face regarding rising costs.

Think of it this way: if there was a leak in your office roof, placing a bucket under the drip takes care of the immediate problem—but does nothing to repair the roof in the long run. Same with employee healthcare. If you have an employee that develops diabetes, your healthcare insurance will provide coverage for the physician bills, testing and ongoing care (and that’s good). So you do have a bucket to catch the drips. But what if you could have prevented that drip in the first place? And how can you prevent that initial leak from turning into something worse? The answer is not insurance, but a sound wellness program.

The reality is that an employee with diabetes generates 5 times higher workers’ comp costs. If you have a smoker in the office, he or she is 40 percent more likely to have a work injury. And your obese workers? They are twice as likely to be injured at work, have 7 times higher workers’ comp medical costs, and take 13 times more days off than their non-obese counterparts. It’s pretty clear that if you can eliminate those costly outcomes by encouraging and supporting healthier habits, the financial payoff can be immense. A leak may still occur, but it’s now less likely. After all, it’s infinitely simpler to maintain the integrity of a roof than play catch up with repairs after leaks begin occurring.

So what are important elements of a strong wellness program?

  1. It must align with the corporate culture and employee needs. Take the time to understand your employees’ starting spot. Middle-age men working in manufacturing have different motivators, concerns and barriers to health than, say, a team of younger women in retail.
  2. You must lead by example. A wellness program will be perceived as a punishment, not as the real reward or benefit that it is, if upper management isn’t enthusiastic and participating along with everyone else. A wellness program provides real opportunity for fun—through the programs, the rewards and team spirit.
  3. It should be measurable. Look at things like existing healthcare costs and absenteeism rates. Provide baseline biometric screening for each individual. Based on these quantifiable measurements, establish goals for the organization and ask employees to create their own personal goals. Having targets for improvement will help identify areas of focus. Some businesses have lots of smokers; others don’t. Perhaps there is an expressed concern about heart health or cancer screening. Let your employee’s current health and current worries define the wellness programming to get the best possible buy-in.
  4. Establish connections. Make sure you communicate the connection between proactive wellness and improved workplace safety. Let smokers know there is more than healthy lungs at stake. Share the health risks and business costs that result from obesity. The more you educate your workforce, the more likely they will become champion the program themselves.
  5. Support ongoing dialog. You are asking people to make lifestyle changes—and that is a tall order for most people. Encourage, remind, reinforce positive behavior and reward small increments forward. It takes time for change to become habit. If you have a large workforce, a monthly newsletter might be effective. Perhaps a weekly online video with a new tip would be welcome. In some offices, a competitive team challenge would work. Just be certain to keep the discussion going.

The ultimate goal is to design a wellness program that is as unique as your organization. Do it right and your healthier employees will lead to healthier corporate finances as well. We’ve helped many companies initiate and maintain effective wellness programs and we’d be thrilled to do the same for you. Just ask your MJ consultant for guidance or contact me at 317-805-7500 or shauna.henley@mjinsurance.com to get started.