Workplace Wellness Programs the Key to Cutting Insurance Costs

According to numerous studies, healthier employees lead to lower premiums. And if employers can make their employees healthier without cutting benefits or shifting more premium costs to their employees, is there a downside? After all, Fortune 1000 companies have been using wellness to combat rising health care costs for years.

According to a Duke University study, the cost of obesity among full-time employees is estimated to be $73.1 billion. As a result of health problems linked to obesity, lost job productivity could be more costly than medical expenditures. The report recommended that employers promote healthy foods in the workplace, encourage a culture of wellness
from the CEO on down, and provide economic and other incentives to employees who show signs of improvement. While workplace wellness programs began as a niche industry, they have morphed into comprehensive programs for worksites of all sizes.

They’re touted as an effective business strategy to improve the health and productivity of
workers, reduce health care costs, attract new employees, and retain existing ones.

Sadly, these programs have no value if they’re not used. A study by the National Institute
for Occupational Safety and Health, “Availability of and Participation in Workplace
Health Promotion Programs (WHPPs) by Sociodemographic, Occupation, and Work
Organization Characteristics in U.S. Workers,” found that approximately 47 percent of workers have access to WHPPs and only 58 percent of those with access actually participate.

So, who’s using WHPPs and who’s not?

That depends on several factors, including the type of job and whether the employee is full time or part time.

Occupations such as farming, fishing, forestry, food preparation and serving, construction, and extraction had the lowest availability of WHPPs and workers in these occupations were also the least likely to participate in the programs. Employees who worked less than 20 hours a week, worked regular night shifts, were paid by the hour,
or worked for temporary agencies were also less likely to participate.

Researchers also identified barriers that kept workers from participating, including time
constraints, lack of awareness, low supervisory support, and perceived need, but noted such barriers vary by industry.

The report concluded that employers should gauge workers’ priorities before designing and implementing WHPPs and to customize programs to their employees’ specific needs in order to maximize participation.

Another factor that may be helpful in gauging participation is to identify which wellness perks were most important to workers and how those perks impacted productivity.

Polling among employees was surprising. It wasn’t fitness facilities nor technology-based
health tools that topped the list of why workers had job satisfaction, but air quality and natural light.

Air quality and light were the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness, and well-being. Also high on the must-have list was water quality, followed by comfortable temperatures, then acoustics and noise levels.

Not surprisingly, employees want to be able to customize their work environment, such as the temperature and natural light.

One company has taken those needs to heart by managing the acoustic levels in their employee’s space by creating a floor plan without assigned seating. Neighborhoods of workspaces were designed specifically for employees collaborating in person, remotely, or those who choose to work alone. Similar arrangements can be made for temperature and light.

Here are seven steps employers can take to improve their results:

  • Make WHPPs employee-centric – Survey employees about their workplace wellness priorities and tailor or modify the program to those needs.
  • Integrate WHPPs with workplace safety programs – For positive results, common safety issues such as work schedules, workplace culture, ergonomics, substance exposures, noise levels, fatigue, and so on should be incorporated with the wellness
    program.
  • Recognize that workplace wellness is more than physical health – Studies have shown that most worksite health programs focus on physical activity, nutrition, and stress management. Environmental factors such as air, light, temperature, and acoustics are usually overlooked.
  •  Personalize as much as possible – Employees love to personalize their workspace, whether it’s framed photos of their kids or Star Wars memorabilia. Along those same lines, employees expect the company to take their well-being into account in
    all aspects of work.
  • Recognize that workplace wellness is more than physical health – Studies have shown that most worksite health programs focus on physical activity, nutrition, and stress management. Environmental factors such as air, light, temperature, and acoustics are usually overlooked.
  • Recognize the challenge of changing human behavior – Personal behaviors and habits, including health and safety, are very difficult to change. It takes take time and effort.
  • Give employees a sense of ownership – Much like a culture of safety, employees must buy into a culture of wellness. Consider a wellness committee from a cross-section of departments and employees to provide input and drive participation.
  • Monitor employee satisfaction – Attempt to measure the return on investment of WHPPs, including health care costs, absenteeism, disability claims, and workers’ compensation claims. It’s important to incorporate “soft” measures, too, such as satisfaction and morale.

In addition to holding down insurance premiums, wellness programs can positively affect workers’ compensation costs, although measuring the impact takes longer because of the method of calculating the experience rating.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Seven ways to improve Workplace Health Promotion Programs for all-sized employers

While workplace wellness programs began as a niche industry, they eventually morphed into comprehensive programs for worksites of all sizes. They’re touted as an effective business strategy to improve the health and productivity of workers, reduce health care costs, attract new employees, and retain existing ones.

Studies of wellness programs have produced conflicting results. Some find that the programs are a good investment with a 3 -1 return, while others have found they may change certain behaviors, but don’t improve job performance. Although the result vary, there’s a common thread – utilization did not live up to expectations.

A recent study, “Availability of and Participation in Workplace Health Promotion Programs (WHPP) by Sociodemographic, Occupation, and Work Organization Characteristics in US Workers” by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that just under half of employees have access to them and among those who do have access, just about half utilize them. The study found that although approximately 47 percent of workers have access to WHPPs, only 58 percent of those with access actually participate. That’s roughly one in every four workers.

Occupations such as farming, fishing, forestry, food preparation and serving, construction, and extraction had the lowest availability of WHPP’s and workers in these occupations were also the least likely to participate in the programs. Workers who worked less than 20 hours a week, worked regular night shifts, were paid by the hour, or worked for temporary agencies were also less likely to participate. Researchers also identified barriers that keep workers from participating, including time constraints, lack of awareness, low supervisory support, and perceived need, but noted such barriers vary by industry.

The report concludes that employers should gauge workers’ priorities before designing and implementing WHPPs to customize programs to their employees’ specific needs and maximize participation. Another recent survey by Future Workplace and View sought to identify which wellness perks were most important to workers and how these perks impact productivity.

The results were surprising. It was not fitness facilities or technology-based health tools that topped the list, but air quality and natural light. Air quality and light were the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness and wellbeing. Only 1 in 4 of the 1,600 employees surveyed say the air quality in their office is optimal for them to do their best work and nearly one-half say the quality of air makes them sleepy. In the number three spot was water quality, followed by comfortable temperatures, then acoustics and noise levels.

Just as people want to have a personalized consumer experience, employees want to be able to customize their work environment – control the temperature, mask noise, have natural light and so on. It’s not as impossible as it sounds. Cisco, for example, has managed the acoustic levels in their space by creating a floor plan without assigned seating that includes neighborhoods of workspaces designed specifically for employees collaborating in person, remotely, or those who choose to work alone. Similar arrangements can be made for temperature and light.

Here are seven steps employers can take to improve their results:

  1. Make WHPPs employee-centric. Complement the workplace health assessment with a survey of your employees to determine their workplace wellness priorities and tailor or modify the program accordingly.
  2. Integrate WHPPs with workplace safety programs. The synergistic possibilities of integrating common safety issues such as work schedules, workplace culture, ergonomics, substance exposures, noise levels, fatigue, and so on with the wellness program are significant.
  3. Personalize as much as possible. Employees expect the ability to personalize their workspace. More workers expect the company that employs them to take their well-being into account in all aspects of work.
  4. Recognize that workplace wellness is more than physical health. Studies show that most worksite health programs focus on physical activity, nutrition, and stress management. Environmental factors such as air, light, temperature, and acoustics are overlooked.
  5. Recognize the challenge of changing human behavior. Personal behaviors, including health and safety, are very difficult to change. They are embedded in routines and habits. It’s going to take time, effort, and reinforcement and there will be setbacks. Employees who are cynical and are distrustful of their employer will not be committed.
  6. Give employees a sense of ownership. Much like a culture of safety, employees must buy into a culture of wellness. Consider a wellness committee from a cross-section of departments and employees to provide input and drive participation.
  7. Monitor employee satisfaction. While employers often struggle with measuring the ROI of WHPPs, common factors include health care costs, absenteeism, disability claims, and workers’ comp claims. It’s important to incorporate “soft” measures such as satisfaction and morale.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com