Corporate Health Initiatives: An Overlooked HR Tool

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1 Serving the Vending, Coffee Service and Foodservice Management Industries Corporate Health Initiatives: An Overlooked HR Tool Health Care Costs to Employers Employers have been hit hard by the soaring costs of providing employees with health care benefits. Recent studies indicate that almost 50 percent of corporate profits now go for health care costs versus only 7 percent three decades ago. PricewatershouseCoopers has just released a study commissioned by America s Health Insurance Plans that found the overall increase in health insurance premiums was 8.8 percent between 2004 and The study attributes 27 percent of the increase to general inflation, 43 percent to increased utilization and 30 percent to health care price increases in excess of inflation. The non-medical costs to a company of an unhealthy lifestyle can include: High absenteeism High worker s compensation High disability claims Unnecessary health service use Excessive medical leave Early medical retirements High life insurance costs Significant productivity loss Excess worker conflict Family disruption Social disruption Changing Behavior Employers are actively seeking new ways to reduce health care costs without jeopardizing their ability to attract and retain workers and one significant way to approach this problem is through an employee campaign that may decrease healthcare

2 costs (health insurance premiums, medical claims), reduce absenteeism and increase productivity. According to Larry Chapman, chairman and co-founder of Summex Health Management, illness and injury in the workplace can be reduced by changing the behaviors associated with modifiable risk factors. Mr. Chapman says some modifiable risk factors targeted by most worksite wellness programs include: Hearth Disease: high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, lack of exercise. Automobile Accidents and Injury: non use of seat belts and child restraints, speeding, drinking while driving, cigarette smoking, long distance driving. Pulmonary or Respirator Diseases: cigarette smoking, occupational exposures, air pollution exposure, second hand smoke exposure, pollen exposure. Selected Cancers: cigarette smoking, obesity, low fiber diet, high animal fat intake, lack of self-examination practices, use of smokeless tobacco products, excessive alcohol consumption, promiscuous sexual behavior. In a recent study, Dr. Marilyn M. Helms, Professor at Dalton State College, found that corporate programs designed to improve the healthcare of employees improved employee morale and productivity and reduced employee turnover. Dr. Helms pointed to a study by the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion suggesting the average cost-to-benefit impact of these programs was a $2 healthcare cost saving for every $1 spent on the programs. She said wellness programs may range from relatively low cost informational efforts to higher cost programs, which may involve a company partnership with a local fitness facility or an on-site fitness center. To gain the maximum cost containment from a healthcare prospective, says Dr. Helms, organizations must consider wellness commitments that may include: On-site health care screenings Smoking cessation programs Exercise and weight management programs Nutrition counseling Programs to discourage drug and alcohol use

3 Flu vaccinations Golf leagues Non traditional activities like yoga, meditation and tai chi classes, and others. The challenge to most organizations today is not whether to offer a wellness program, says Dr. Helms, but how to design and target such programs for maximum long-term effectiveness. The program should be designed to attract and retain key employees and should begin with the needs and preferences of potential end-users. A Good Start: NAMA s Get Healthy and Get Fit Kit To help combat childhood obesity, the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) created the Balanced for Life Campaign, a national education initiative partnering with parents, schools and community leaders to underscore the importance of a balanced diet and being physically active. As an extension of that campaign, NAMA has now created this Balanced for Life Get Healthy and Fit Kit designed to assist companies in implementing employee-based programs. Components of the Kit include the seven steps to start a program, fitness and nutritional advice and guidelines, reduced membership fees at more than 1,800 GlobalFit fitness centers around the country, and guidelines, materials and advice necessary to create and maintain a successful campaign. A successful outcome based on the Balanced for Life Get Healthy and Fit Kit requires a strong commitment from both management and their employees. It is not an easy task and will take time to see results, but if it is successful both employer and employee will benefit in better lifestyles, better work habits and more productive lives.

4 Serving the Vending, Coffee Service and Foodservice Management Industries Seven Steps to Workplace Wellness WELCOA (see resources section), a company that offers comprehensive wellness programs, recommends Seven Steps to workplace wellness: 1. Secure the support of top management. If management fails to buy into the program, it will not succeed. 2. Appoint a Wellness Committee. The purpose of this committee is to plan, operate and promote the program. Appointees to the committee might include: a. Top management b. Union representatives c. Human resources personnel d. Health and safety officers e. Employees interested in health and wellness 3. Collect data on your employees, including: a. Reviewing medical records b. Facility assessments: Poor facilities can contribute to employee health problems c. Check absenteeism rates, it is a good indicator of health as well as the morale of employees d. Health risk appraisals these surveys ask employees about their health habits and family histories. Appraisals could include questions about physical activities, smoking, sleeping patterns, depression, stress, seat belt use and nutrition e. Health screenings, including blood pressure, height-to-weight ratios, cholesterol levels, hearing and other factors, keeping in mind it is important to protect an employee s privacy f. Employee surveys structured to collect health risk prevalence (smoking, exercise activity, weight, other characteristics)

5 g. Focus groups among employees, individual interviews, meetings, and h. Cultural audits, does management s expectations, feelings and concerns match those of employees at other levels throughout the company 4. Create a simple plan and set simple goals. If excess weight is identified as a primary concern, for example, set a goal of losing so many pounds as a company. 5. Choose the appropriate intervention, ranging from providing informational materials to promoting exercise as part of an employee s daily schedule. 6. Create a supportive environment. If you want your employees to exercise more, make it easier for them do to so during the workday (walking or bicycle trails around your facilities, for example). 7. Carefully evaluate outcomes. Is your program meeting your expectations and goals? If not, how can it be changed? Evaluate feed-back in each of the following categories: participant involvement, participant feedback and satisfaction, changes in information and attitudes, changes in population behavior, changes in health status measures, specific organizational economic gains. Pilot Program: If there is general resistance to an organization-wide program, then initiate a pilot program in an area where data on productivity and health costs is more easily measurable.

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