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If your group health clients are looking for new ways to pump up their profits, one strategy might be to use gift certificates, prepaid phone cards, travel packages and other incentives to increase employee interest in wellness programs.

Results vary from industry to industry and from company to company, but many employers find that improving employee health can increase earnings by increasing employee productivity.

One famous study by Motorola Inc., Schaumburg, Ill., found that a wellness program saved that organization $3.93 for every $1 spent. The program held the annual aggregate increase in costs to 2.4% for participating employees, compared to an 18% increase for non-participants.

Holding the rate of increase in health insurance costs down is certainly a great accomplishment, but a successful wellness program may be able to lead to much higher returns by raising the percentage of employees who are at workand the percentage of employees at work who are truly ready to work.

Measuring the effects of a wellness program on metrics such as absenteeism can be tricky. But a 2-year study by one large employer, E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, Wilmington, Del., examined the impact of a wellness program on worker attendance. Disability days declined just 5.8% for workers at sites outside the program and 14% for workers at sites in the program.

Thanks to the wellness program, DuPont workers at sites in the wellness program spent almost 12,000 more days on the job over a 2-year period than workers at other sites.

For group health brokers, the message is clear: Helping employers set up effective wellness programs can make brokers invaluable to their clients.

If your clients ask whether wellness programs work, your response should be that the real question is how to get employees to buy-in.

Clearly, a wellness program can work, if it gets employees to change their ways. But, of course, motivating employees’ to eat less and exercise more can be difficult.

For years employers have been trying to reduce health care costs by asking employees to take better care of their health. Initially, the plea was, “Change your behavior for the good of the company and your own good as well.”

Unfortunately, smoking, obesity and other unhealthy conditions did not just go away.

Some employers adopted more sophisticated programs and technology in an effort to help employees make healthier choices. Although that shift was a step in the right direction, too few employees have taken advantage of the programs.

So, how do your clients persuade employees to take steps that will pay off for them in the short run and for the employers in the long run? The answer is to offer the employees immediate rewards for participating in a wellness program or achieving certain short-term goals.

Rewards that make an impact and truly make an employee feel recognized could range from small gift certificates and brand name merchandise to free trips and gourmet foods.

Hewitt Associates Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill., found several years ago that 81% of the large employers it surveyed already were offering incentives to increase employees awareness of the need to adopt healthy lifestyles and encourage participation in exercise programs and other wellness programs.

Small and midsize employers can get employee wellness program buy-in by coming up with incentives that match their own employee demographics.

For clients with 20 employees, knowing what motivates each one is easier than coming up with that information for 100, 500 or 10,000 employees.

Movie tickets, gift certificates for meals at local restaurants and mugs with the company logo can take a program only so far. Today, many employers are trying to match incentives to employees with Web-based systems or other systems that give employees’ the ability to choose their own rewards. The new systems can keep reward offerings fresh and maintain employees’ enthusiasm about wellness programs.

The easiest way for brokers to meet employers’ need for wellness incentive programs is to join with companies to track employee participation, issue awards, and report on progress and budgets.

The best companies offer Web-based reward-selection systems that provide:

A wide choice of attractive items, such as prepaid phone cards, airline miles for airlines that employees have heard of, brand-name merchandise, travel packages, gift cards from well-known retailers, fine foods and, for your clients’ many time-starved employees, personal services.

A system for tying rewards together with your client’s logo, your client’s company name, the employees’ name and a personal message, such as “Thank you for completing your Health Risk Assessment Form.”

An automated award management system.

A simple, up-to-date tracking and reporting system.

Tools for adding incentives for new programs, such as new retention programs.

A help desk staffed with advisors who can help you, your clients and clients’ employees with questions about the incentive services and award administration process.

Michael G. Dermer is president, CEO and co-founder of IncentOne, Carlstadt, N.J., a provider of integrated reward, recognition and incentive solutions. He can be reached at tpanasik@incentone.com.


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.