Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Wellness infused with motivation, measurement and management

Employee Benefit News

By Bruce Shutan

The blind spot of employee wellness programs is they tend to focus on telling employees what they should be doing to live healthier without addressing how people are motivated to make changes or helping sustain desired behaviors. ...

Participation in {one well-structured wellness} program can range anywhere from 40% to 85% depending on how a company designs their program and what incentives they offer, whereas ... the number tends to be only about 5% to 15% among traditional programs. Moreover, because the focus is on motivation, measurement and management, corporate clients have reported a return on investment that’s as high as 5:1 over the course of a year based on lower medical costs and precursor conditions to chronic illnesses and an increase in employee productivity.

Culture of prevention

One strategic position that {this wellness program} seeks to reinforce when helping companies develop a culture of prevention that rewards personal responsibility is that the interests of employers and employees are aligned because both parties are seeking to contain mounting health care costs.

Many of these expenses are clearly preventable in that they’re related to lifestyle – producing poor health outcomes that are driving down productivity, spiking absenteeism and disability claims, triggering presenteeism and threatening profitability.

Milliman Inc. analysts recently noted that a typical family of four will spend $18,074 on average for medical care in 2010 – a 7.8% increase from the previous year. But perhaps most alarming is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 75% of the nation’s health care costs, or $1.5 trillion, are traced to chronic diseases, most of which are preventable. …

{a well-structured wellness program} favors budget-neutral employee incentives that are aligned with preventative strategies that result in healthy behaviors. The approach is akin to a good-driver discount in that individuals who exhibit healthy behaviors are rewarded just as those with an accident-free driving record. Employees who participate in health and wellness programs, for example, would be eligible to receive a discount on their monthly health insurance premiums …

The initial focus is on physical activity because of its high impact in preventing diseases that are driving health care cost increases, as well as how easily it’s measured. … [It’s] easy to track the number of miles walked or calories burned by simply wearing a pedometer.

Making programs fun

Another key component of this proactive approach is to encourage social interaction with friends and colleagues, which often drives physical activity on a daily basis. … But in order to do these programs justice, employers need to recognize that there are different behavioral levers to motivate employees.

...[A] biometric measurement station ... enables employees to track key measures such as their weight, body fat and blood pressure.

… Using these measurement stations provides real-time and accurate data that’s provided to the employer in an aggregated fashion ... So employees get to accurately track their progress over time and the company gets to track the results of their employee population as a whole. ...

To learn more, download the Virgin HealthMiles white paper, PAY-FOR-PREVENTION™:An Emerging Health and Productivity Paradigm.

About the author Bruce Shutan, former managing editor of Employee Benefit News, is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

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