Monday, January 14, 2008

Health Care and Wellness

Wellness has become the new buzzword in the health care world of the 21st century. Everyone wants to talk about wellness, especially insurance companies and major employers. With wellness programs we can cure the common cause of large butts and employees who are listed as MIA. Billions of dollars are lost every year in productivity and profits as employees and insurance claimants are sick due to causes related to bad habits and poor health choices. But with wellness programs, we can make these all go away. Yeah, right.

Most Americans make New Year's resolutions about their health, but in the vast majority of cases there is extremely poor to no follow through. Or, those resolutions fade away shortly after their program starts, and the wellness plan melts away like a snowflake on a warm woolen mitten.

Wellness programs are one way to help reduce employee absences and decrease insurance claims, but they are not the only way. The biggest way to stop the bleeding is to get people to change the way they think about their personal health and the way they live. Lifestyle choices are largely based on how people see themselves in the mirror. To make a difference in your health, you need to analyze your daily routine and see what you want to change to become a healthier person. If you are already in great physical, mental, and spiritual shape, then good for you! However, you may want to develop a maintenance program involving all those aspects that will keep you at the top of your game.

But the bottom line is that most people are not proactive about their health. A recent study released by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona said that 87% of the respondents revealed their health could be improved. About 25% of employees surveyed admitted missing at least one day of work per quarter due to poor health, and over 50% said that their health impaired work performance. The Phoenix Business Journal this month stated that the U.S. Surgeon General reported that 75% of the health care dollars spent in the U.S. is to treat chronic diseases that could be prevented by healthier lifestyles. Employers are tired of paying for sick workers. Yet, more and more employees are signing up for company wellness programs in order to reduce health care expenses. Participation in wellness programs have been proven to increase employee retention and productivity, and the primary motivation is to stay healthy.

The motivation must have an incentive for it to work. According to a study published February 2007 on, Principal Financial and Harris Interactive reported increased rates of participation in wellness programs including health screenings, fitness plans, and additional modules like smoking cessation and more. The survey proved that both employers and employees want the same thing--a healthier workplace and lifestyle. Wellness benefits encourage workers to work harder and have an increased incentive to stay with their current employer. Yet with all this increased activity, employees need to have a carrot at the end of the stick in order for them to want to get involved with a wellness plan. Some may do it just for the end result of a healthier life, but most employees want additional benefits beyond a smaller waist line and lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Employers want to know how to get their workers to buy into a wellness program. By and large, wellness, wellness programs themselves have been proven to be successful. But employers are looking for ways to increase profits and improve employee motivation to stay on the job. Stimulating workers to exercise and diet is not easy, and just telling someone to improve their health for themselves and for the good of the company and they will feel better does not jump start a high rate of participation. And saying to the employee "Lose weight or get fired," doesn't help much either. That's a lawsuit waiting to happen. Some forward thinking companies use rewards--gift cards, keepsakes, travel packages, bonuses, etc--as incentives. They make a short term impact with long term results. Tracking participation, progress, and costs will help improve profitability and employee satisfaction. Keeping the cost of employee insurance down is one way to make wellness programs worthwhile, but the best return is to have an increase in the number of employees who don't miss work due to illness and who want to work.

Change in behavior and attitude are the real reasons that wellness programs are successful. Profits and a happy workforce are the benefits from instituting wellness programs. A pleasant workplace environment with healthy employees is a much better way to get more work done, and healthy workers have a much better attitude about themselves, their employer, and their jobs. Wellness works, but attitudes and behavior have to change first. Old habits die hard, but new ones are easier to form.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

1 comment:

DrWes said...

Seems everyone's getting a new definition of "wellness" these days.

To think that these initiatives that attempt to bribe individuals into changing their lifestyle will be effective, I am VERY suspect. Oh sure, the short term gains might be there, but for the long haul? Doubt it.

The term "wellness" was created by the insurance industry, and as such, will remain an insurance buzzword for rationing.