BIZHealth: Fit & Healthy Employees
Ok, admit it. When was the last time you took your professional self in for a physical exam? Four years? Seven? If you’re like the majority of business professionals, it may have been even longer.
Today’s business professionals are dying to make it to the top—literally. Their lives are being stamped out by the leading causes of death in the corporate community, which include heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. The greatest tragedy is that each of us can avoid or overcome these illnesses by making better lifestyle choices. But burdened by jam-packed schedules and reluctance to see a doctor, many professionals—in public and private sectors alike—neglect to exercise and eat right.
Research shows participation in workplace-based wellness programs that incorporate positive incentives can lead to behavior changes resulting in improved health and lower health care costs.
Just ask Golden Valley’s Doris Chavez, an assistant director of accounts receivable at McKesson Medical-Surgical. Chavez has benefited from one of these programs—losing 93 pounds (and 46 inches off her overall body measurements) and reducing her glucose levels and blood pressure from dangerously high to normal levels. She went from not exercising at all to working out seven days a week. So what’s her secret? Chavez is participating in the Vitality Rewards Incentive Program offered by her employer.
“My employer offered Vitality, a scientifically-based health enhancement solution, as a benefit for both of us,” Chavez says. “I had experienced a health scare that made me realize that I needed to work on my health and Vitality was right there for me. By working on my wellness, I earned points that I turned into rewards such as plane tickets and appliances. These potential rewards motivated me to work harder. My employer also benefited because I’m healthier and my medical costs have been reduced for both of us.”
Jerry Warren, senior vice president of Total Rewards at McKesson Corporation, says that the company started its wellness journey more than three years ago. “We partner with our employees to provide customized, first-class benefits that emphasize prevention and wellness,” Warren says. McKesson sought to provide employees with additional tools and resources to improve their health and realize their full wellness potential. “Vitality offers a scalable program that emphasizes choices and flexibility, while providing us with verifiable data on employee participation and measured outcomes,” Warren says.
To date, 78 percent of all McKesson employees have taken the health risk assessment and 41.1 percent of employees have completed five or more wellness activities in addition to their health risk assessment and biometric screening. What’s more, over 115,000 verified workouts have been submitted since October 2011.
“Our employees have logged enough steps to walk to the moon and back nearly four times,” Warren says. “That is almost 2 billion steps!”
All McKesson employees receive recommended goals based on their health assessment or validated biometric results (where available). Each goal is supported by an action plan with recommended activities and completion criteria. It typically takes three-to-six months to achieve a goal.
“Activities and outcomes are validated and incentivized based on the employee’s overall risk profile,” Warren says. Once a goal is achieved, an employee is typically presented with a maintenance goal to encourage ongoing healthy behavior throughout the plan year.
As a leader in the health care industry, McKesson believes that building healthier organizations will deliver better care to patients,” Warren says. “By creating a culture of health and wellness for our employees and families, we ensure a happy, healthy workforce and help our customers become healthier businesses.”
According to Kyle Rolfing, founder and president of RedBrick Health Corporation, a health engagement technology company focused on helping employers reinvigorate their health and wellness programs, “There is an abundance of evidence that good health pays for itself—in reduced costs, improved productivity and presenteeism and general employee engagement.”
At United Healthcare, personalized incentives are a core component of their Personal Rewards program. “We’ve learned that a quality incentive-based wellness program informs people about their current health status, starts them on the right track to a healthier lifestyle and keeps them motivated throughout the year,” says Yasmine Winkler, United Healthcare’s chief marketing and product officer. “Our employees, just like everyone else, want to improve their health so they can enjoy a long life and be at their best at home and at work. However, it’s hard to both take action and to know specifically what actions you should be taking. That is why Personal Rewards has been so successful—it creates a personal scorecard and action plan to make it easy for you to know exactly what you need to do to set out on a path to healthy living while being rewarded for taking those actions.”
For example, United Healthcare’s Personal Rewards program offers employees financial incentives to have their cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose and weight checked by their doctor. “Individuals can earn up to $1,000 or more each year by taking action and reaching healthy levels for these health benchmarks,” Winkler says.
Rolfing says the key to producing population-based improvement in physical activity and nutrition habits is to first recognize that it’s nearly impossible to “motivate” people.
“The key is to focus communication and engagement strategies on tapping existing motivations and making it simple and fun to succeed in re-shaping habits,” Rolfing says. “This approach is at the core of our unique approach to health engagement and behavior change. We surround this approach with interactive tools for a completely different kind of health assessment—a Health Map that provides real-time recommendations on an ongoing basis and a choice architecture that presents the most impactful list of prioritized focus areas.”
RedBrick primarily serves employers with 5,000 or more employees and have successful programs running across a wide range of industries. They also work with strategic distribution partners to reach mid-size employers.
“We also offer consumers the ability to engage in a variety of formats—online, mobile, the support of a live coach or even a social challenge or game format,” Rolfing says. “And we wrap everything in an incentive format we call RedBrick Rewards that allows our employer clients to re-invent their financing model for the health benefit—creating greater accountability and a ‘win-win’ with employees around achieving a healthier, higher performing workforce.”
Motivation at its Core
According to Alan Pollard, CEO of The Vitality Group, support from managers and supervisors is critical in encouraging employees to adopt healthy behaviors. “Studies have shown that senior management interest in employee wellbeing is the number-one driver of employee engagement,” Pollard says. “Health education is also key. The more employees understand the basics of ill health, the more likely it is they will understand employer efforts to change these factors. Accessibility of wellness programs in the workplace as well as consistent, targeted communications across all communication outlets is also important.”
Rosie Ward, Ph.D., health management services manager for RJF Agencies, a risk prevention firm based in Minneapolis, stresses that a company needs to already have a culture in which employees feel valued or any effort to try to improve exercise and eating habits will fall short, and may be resented by some employees. “Assuming the company already has a high-functioning culture, then environmental interventions are really the most effective. Humans are hard-wired for immediate gratification and to resist change, so making better choices easy for people is critical,” Ward says.
With that, Ward says some companies are supporting employee activity by building “movement breaks” into long meetings, encouraging walking meetings, providing walking routes and paths, offering onsite exercise options and resources, providing sit-to-stand work stations, walking treadmill desks and conference roomsand and forming various activity clubs. “Others take it a step further by having physical activity policies in place,” Ward says.
In fact, more and more employers are considering the many benefits of implementing a full-fledged employee wellness program. At United Healthcare, they’ve seen significant interest in wellness programs because more employers are recognizing they can support their employees’ desires to improve their health and thereby create a happier, healthier workforce and reduced costs for employees and the company. “We believe the many unique wellness programs we offer are part of the reason why United Healthcare added more than 1.5 million new members last year nationwide,” Winkler says.
United Healthcare offers wellness programs designed to be engaging and easy to follow. They focus on raising an individual’s awareness of his or her own health status, then provide the support and resources necessary to make it easier to live a healthy lifestyle. Participants also benefit from financial incentives and rewards, such as reduced premiums, cash back or merchant gift cards.
“Many successful companies create a culture that encourages healthy lifestyles at work and at home,” Winkler says. “There are many ways to accomplish this goal, such as incorporating an incentive-based wellness program for employees, or simply making it easier for employees to take healthy actions while at work. We’re seeing employers create walking paths around their office, revamp their cafeteria menus and in some cases, even build on-site health clinics to make it convenient to see a nurse or physician when feeling ill.”
United Healthcare has learned that financial incentives such as premium reductions, contributions to a person’s Health Savings Account and merchant gift cards motivate people to become aware of their health and change unhealthy behaviors. “Ideally, every individual would eat right, exercise regularly and get their necessary preventive care and screenings because it is the right thing to do for one’s health,” Winkler says. “However, the reality is that our lives are busier and more stressful than ever and our personal health is often the first item to be pushed to the bottom of our daily priority lists. Incentive-based plans give people the personal support they need and want to help them get on the right track and then keep them motivated through meaningful and personally relevant rewards.”