Create a Wellness Program that Works

Aug. 1, 2016
Decrease absenteeism, reduce healthcare costs and improve employee retention by promoting healthy lifestyles

Healthier, fitter, livelier, more active, more productive, and, ultimately, happier employees—all reasons why Rebecca Atkins says you should set up a wellness program.

As human resources manager for Conrad’s Tire Express & Total Car Care, Atkins has overseen the wellness benefits available to the 36 locations’ 350 employees for the past 12 years. And while that may seem dauntingly huge, Rick Lindquist, CEO of Zane Benefits, an employee benefits consultant company, says he helps smaller auto repair shops set up similar programs across the country.

There’s been an increasing prevalence of wellness initiatives over the past few years. In 2009, one-third of U.S. companies offered wellness programs to employees; today, according to The Family and Work Institute’s 2014 National Study of Employers, that number is up to 60 percent. Seventy-five percent of employees in a recent HealthMine Survey said they would take advantage of health incentives, and a 2015 Wells Fargo Insurance survey claims 51 percent of employers plan to add or increase wellness benefits by 2017.

Atkins and Lindquist believe (and national statistics show) improved employee retention and decreased medical costs outweigh the expenses: The Center for American Progress reports the average cost of replacing an employee earning $30,000 to $50,000 is 20 percent of his or her annual salary, while Harvard University found medical costs fall by $3.27 per dollar spent on wellness programs, and absenteeism costs fall by $2.73 per dollar spent.

Atkins says, in the long term, wellness initiatives have decreased turnover, and Conrad’s has gained one hour of production per month per employee over the past few years.

Both experts spoke with Ratchet+Wrench to lay out how to plan for and execute a wellness program that keeps employees healthier, more present, and more productive at work.

Prepare the Program

Before offering any wellness benefits, you will need to draw up a blueprint for your company’s program:

Survey your employees. A wellness program will only improve operations if employees actually take advantage of it. Lindquist says to survey your employees beforehand to determine if the program is a good investment.

If they express interest, find out what your employees value: Do they use the gym regularly? Would they participate in step-tracking programs? Are they looking to eat healthier? Would they take advantage of wellness screenings? Do they need help with disease management?

Clearly define program goals. A 2014 study from the RAND Corporation analyzed data from 600,000 employees and found employers that track and execute their program goals consistently had longer lasting results.

Lindquist says to ask yourself: Are you looking to decrease premium costs? Reduce sick days? Increase productivity? Create a unified culture? Or are you simply looking improve workforce health?

Create a budget. Once you’ve outlined your goals and what employees would utilize, Lindquist says to consider all potential costs and craft a budget.

Each fall, Conrad’s management tinkers with the wellness budget. They review the number of employees utilizing benefits, how many receipts they receive for reimbursements, and wellness screening costs.

The Wellness Council of America recommends allocating $100–$150 per year per employee, with an additional $300 if incentives and health coaching are desired.

Design the Program

Every wellness program is different and offers various benefits. Atkins and Lindquist list some initiatives to consider:

Offer fitness reimbursements. The most common wellness benefit Lindquist encounters is reimbursing gym memberships. Conrad’s extends beyond that, offering 60 percent reimbursement for gyms, equipment purchases (such as treadmills and elliptical machines) and sporting activities. The benefits extend to family members as well—which Atkins says has been huge for employee retention—covering everything from karate classes to basketball leagues.

Employees turn in receipts for incurred fitness expenses, and then Conrad’s refunds 60 percent of those costs over four quarters. So if an employee spent $500 in one year, he or she would receive $75 each quarter and be compensated $300 within that year.

Lindquist says some gyms offer business packages, which can come with perks, such as on-site masseuse visits.

Administer wellness screenings. The 2014 RAND study shows employers saw an average $3.80 ROI per dollar spent by getting ahead of potential issues through disease management via wellness screenings.

Atkins says the company partners with UnitedHealthcare and hosts a day of free wellness screenings offered to employees and dependants over the age of 18. For the 240 employees that participate, the outing costs around $1,500.

To increase employee participation, Atkins gives away gift cards, raffles off vacation days with pay and provides healthy snacks.

Encourage competition. Lindquist says many shops set up competitions—such as step-tracking challenges through Fitbit—to promote active and healthy lifestyles.

“We have a lot of competitive people in our industry, just because we’re a production-based business and they make a bonus based off the jobs they work on,” says Atkins.

Promote healthy eating. Atkins utilizes the company’s local computer network to post weekly recipes.

“They like how it changes every week,” she says. “We don’t put chicken wings on there or anything. Just healthy recipes for different vegetable items.”

Hire health coaches. Through its insurance provider, Conrad’s set up health coaches for employees to utilize for $140.

“You get sent to your house a big box with a food scale, proportion containers for food, workout videos,” she says. “And then you just follow up once a week with an online coach and go through your goals, how much weight you’ve lost, how you’ve reduced your BMI (body mass index), and what you need to do differently the next week.”

Arrange company outings. Lindquist has also seen companies host outdoor events aimed at promoting active lifestyles in their employees.

“Instead of having a company meeting in the small conference room, you could go on a hike,” he suggests.

Track the Program

Be sure your wellness program continually produces the expected results laid out in your goals. If employee participation is low, or if you aren’t seeing a return on investment, you may need to tinker with the finer points, or abandon it completely.

Lindquist says either you or third parties should help employees set goals and continually track progress.

“Wellness providers will create a baseline for each individual employee,” he says. “‘Here’s your weight and metrics. Based on where you are now, let’s put plans into place to reduce your BMI by 5 percent.’ Then you follow it up with health assessments at various milestones to track their progress.”

Lindquist says to be strategic with company dollars and try to measure return on investment for every initiative: Track if program costs affect sick days; determine how much you’ve saved in healthcare costs; and observe if a fitter workforce results in increased productivity.

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