How to Create a Corporate Wellness Program: A Personnel Choice

By Steven D. Marks, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, PacificSource Health Plans

Between 1987 and 2002, per capita private health insurance spending in the U.S. increased by a staggering 60 percent. According to Hewitt Associates, steadily escalating health premiums have driven approximately 41 percent of companies to develop employee wellness and disease management programs. Others are encouraging the use of programs provided by health insurers. Many companies have realized they cannot afford to pay for unhealthy choices and have put a greater responsibility on their employees to control lifestyles that may contribute to rising health costs.

Unhealthy lifestyles can hit a company’s bottom line—hard. In Oregon alone, smoking related illnesses cost an estimated $1.8 billion in medical expenses and lost productivity in 2000. Obesity costs U.S. companies an estimated $13 billion annually, according to Trust for America’s Health.

One of the most effective long-term ways to manage the rising costs of health care is to encourage your employees to practice good health habits. This encouragement can include any number of interventions that, when used, may positively impact your overall health care costs. Your business needs, company size and budget will need to be considered.

Does your health insurer offer disease management programs? These are programs that encompass certain chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma, providing enrollees with clinical help and guidance though health education and support. Work with your insurance company to educate your employees about such offerings.

If you do not have a company wellness program, consider instituting one. You can start slowly and build over time. You will need the following: 

  • Management support to foster a culture of wellness and to provide the necessary budget to implement programs. 
  • A program coordinator to oversee the program and to help ensure its success. 
  • A wellness committee made up of those who have an interest in fitness or health promotion. If your workplace has multiple locations, involve representatives from each location. 
  • An established budget will allow the committee to plan activities and compare costs and outcomes to evaluate the program’s performance in terms of cost benefit as well as health benefit. Do you want to build in employee cost sharing for specific activities as an option? Individual program costs may include program materials (handouts, pedometers); promotional materials (posters, flyers); or incentives (gifts or prizes). 
  • A mission statement for the committee should be developed so that everyone knows what the committee is working toward. 
  • A survey of employee interests and needs. Remember, a wellness program addresses behavioral change. People are more willing to change if they are involved in the process. 

Goals and objectives for the program should be developed. Besides the overall wellness program goals and objectives, you may also have individual program goals and objectives. For example, if you institute a walking program, your goals may be to increase physical activity among employees and to motivate employees to make positive health behavior changes. 

An evaluation plan should be developed. A good program evaluation looks at participation and outcomes information to learn how well the program is working and whether it’s achieving expected results.
Wellness programs that address nutrition, weight management, fitness, stress management and smoking cessation are great places to start. Because these areas address risk factors for many chronic conditions including diabetes, heart problems and many cancers, you will reap the most long-term value in both a healthier, more productive workforce as well as reduced health costs over time.
The following are steps that can add to the development of your healthy culture:

  • Gather and distribute free and low cost health information and pamphlets from nonprofit health organizations such as the American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association. 
  • Look into Web-based wellness programs. Check with your health plan to see if you already have this available to your employees and foster its use among your employees. 
  • Develop or purchase health-related articles that you can use in your employee newsletter or post on your company Web site. 
  • Arrange for on-site presentations on health-related topics. Often health professionals in the community are willing to do resentations for free or at low cost. 
  • Provide and promote healthy foods to your employees if your company has a cafeteria or vending machines. 
  • Offer some incentive for fitness/gym memberships or get a corporate discount on such programs for your employees. 
  • Make wellness fun—create an environment of wellness. Organize teams or departments to compete in achieving defined wellness goals, such as pounds lost, steps taken, or calories burned. 
  • Instead of providing bagels and donuts at company meetings, offer fruit, yogurt and low fat granola bars.

You may notice positive short-term changes once your corporate wellness plan is implemented, but time will show the largest payback. As employees take charge of their health, your business may see a drop in health care costs, lower absenteeism, reduced workers’ comp claims, increased productivity, improved recruitment and retention of healthy employees, and enhanced morale.

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Help your employees get engaged!

Our Workplace Wellness Toolkit includes posters, payroll stuffers, and newsletter articles you can use to promote healthy behaviors in your workplace.

Learn how to implement a successful workplace wellness program using our Winning at Wellness guide.

Get the background and regulation information you need for wellness program incentives with our new white paper, Understanding Health-contingent Wellness Incentives.

Last updated 9/3/2013