Follow The Leaders: Promote Wellness Programs

Educating employees about wellness benefits is important, but we think the best role benefits advisors can play is to get the word out to business owners. Results from the most recent Principal Financial Well-Being Index survey show that employees already value wellness benefits and that health promotion programs do affect employee behavior.

In fact, 57% of employees polled said they believe wellness benefits are successful in reducing health care costs. Employees also said they benefit more than their employers or insurance providers: 48% of the employees said they are the ones who benefit the most financially from the effects of wellness programs on health care costs.

What should these numbers tell group health advisors and insurers? We think the numbers tell us that the challenge is not a matter of convincing employees that wellness benefits help their health and their pocketbooks. Rather, the challenge is in getting the message across to business owners and encouraging them to be the leaders. When the owner leads the charge, employees will follow.

One of advisors jobs is to explain that wellness programs have changed. When employersespecially owners of smaller businesseshear about workplace wellness benefits, an image of a rusty treadmill and a broken weight machine in a former supply room may come to mind.

Other employers might think of Web sites that offer a few recipes for fruit smoothies. Today, however, theres a new approach to getting the attention of employers and employees: on-site health care screenings. A trained wellness specialist comes to the employees and provides comprehensive, confidential, private, one-on-one consultations. The specialist can look at health indicators such as flexibility, cholesterol and blood pressure, and even look for signs of heart conditions and other serious health risks.

After the screenings, the specialist gives participating employees information about addressing potential health problems and increasing wellness.

Health screenings can have a big effect on employee behavior. When Principal asked the index survey participants about screenings, 75% of the employees who had gone through them said they had responded to the results by changing their lifestyles. Here are the most common changes employees reported:

47% eat healthier.

45% exercise more.

42% think about healthier options more often.

With all the publicity wellness programs are getting, you might think group health advisors would have a hard time selling the programs because the market is saturated. Although employees value the programs, the majority of companies offer few, if any, wellness benefits. Companies with more than 500 employees are more likely to offer the programs than smaller employers, but there is plenty of room for improvement even at larger employers. So, what features do the best wellness programs offer? Principal organizes an annual program that selects the small and midsize companies with the 10 best employee benefits packages. The companies that made the cut in 2004 provide a wide range of wellness benefits, including annual health screenings, weight management programs, newsletters, flu shots, smoking-cessation programs, in-house fitness facilities and ongoing employee communications.

One of the top 10 employers, a Michigan parts manufacturer, is an example of a company that has truly embraced wellness as a way of doing business. The company has a comprehensive approach to wellness that focuses on employee engagement and rewards. It pays employees $500 to stop smoking and $500 to get in shape.

If you are helping an employer select a wellness company, the key to success is product knowledge. Make sure both you and the employer understand the full scope of the program. What kinds of testing and screening are offered? How quickly are health results made available? How is the wellness data collected? And what kind of data reporting integration is available?

Jerry L. Ripperger is director of consumer health at Principal Financial Group Inc., Des Moines, Iowa. Stephen Gray is vice president of Molloy Wellness Company Inc., Indianapolis.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, March 17, 2005. Copyright 2005 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.