Wellness Programs

Definition: Services focused on the promotion or maintenance of good health rather than the correction of poor health

An employee has a heart attack. Besides concern for the person and the loss of productivity, you can't help but worry about your insurance rates, especially with premiums already skyrocketing 15 percent a year or more. Prolonged illness is a nightmare for employers and employees.

Having a healthier work force can reduce your insurance costs while improving your company's productivity. A "nip it in the bud" approach that targets high-risk employees can help them manage chronic conditions--high cholesterol, hypertension and so on--before they turn into bigger, costlier, problems. And with the emphasis today on fitness and healthy habits, people are glad to get some help in sticking to their resolutions to eat better and exercise.

There are a number of ways you can help employees with a corporate wellness program, including:

  • Health club memberships. You can probably negotiate discounts or even barter an even swap for memberships for employees in local health clubs.
  • Free screenings. If you have more than a few dozen employees, local hospitals and health organizations will be happy to come out and screen your employees for high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and other ailments.
  • On-site health education. Health-conscious employees will appreciate having a nurse or health counselor come in to give occasional lunchtime presentations on smoking cessation, good nutrition, managing stress, coping with alcohol abuse and other health-related topics.

Of course, the biggest obstacle to making wellness programs work is getting employees to participate. Some programs may be seen as career-busters. Your employees may think "If I sign up for the diabetes seminar, I'll get off the promotion route because you're afraid my health won't withstand it." Employees may also be discouraged to participate if a sign-up sheet for depression assessment or HIV screening is posted where everyone can see.

To encourage participation, start by protecting your worker's privacy. Make sure health information that can be linked to specific employees can't be accessed by anyone in the company. Sign-ups should be strictly confidential.

You might also think about offering incentives for signing up, from decreasing employees' co-pays and offering extra time off to giving gifts and bonuses. Start educating employees about how much health care costs the company--a conversation that still isn't making it out of most boardrooms--and send a message that you value good health by creating a work environment that encourages it.

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