Focus on wellness in the workplace is profitable in more ways than one
- on October 12, 2011
It is estimated that 80 percent of health care costs are a result of our behavior: smoking, sitting on the couch, eating too many doughnuts.
One of the biggest influences on our behavior is the workplace, where we spend about 50 percent of our waking time and develop some of our closest relationships.
Lenora Larson, 68, who has worked in the health industry for years, said that’s why employers need to create a culture of wellness.
“For many of us, our most important relationships are our co-workers,” she said. “There’s also this huge peer pressure. If most of your co-workers smoke, you are more likely to smoke. If all of your co-workers are giving up smoking, you are much more likely to engage in giving it up as well. It’s the peer pressure factor.”
Larson was the keynote speaker during the first WorkWell Lawrence Symposium today at the Holiday Inn Lawrence. About 50 people attended.
Larson is director of business development for New Directions in Leawood, which provides health coaching for more than 8,000 companies in the Midwest.
She said out of every 100 employees:
• 60 — are sedentary.
• 42 — are stressed.
• 17 — smoke.
• 15 — are substance abusers.
• 64 — overweight or obese.
She said employers can’t change their employees’ behaviors, but they can educate them and make it easier for them to make the right choices.
“It’s not something you can force from the top down. You have to create an environment so employees choose wellness,” she said.
Keys to success
Lenora outlined what makes a wellness program successful. Among her key points:
• Senior management. They must support the concept and lead by example. If they are willing to provide money or other incentives, that’s even better. Money and paid time off are huge motivators.
• Wellness champions. These are not necessarily people who are fitness gurus but people who may not be making the best health choices themselves. The more people who are involved, the more success a company will have.
• Employee surveys. It is really important to find out what workers want. Some examples: smoking cessation programs, nutrition lessons, onsite exercise classes or gym discounts.
• Change it up. Businesses have to offer something new to keep people motivated. Among her suggestions: health fairs, Weight Watchers club, onsite educational workshops and healthy recipe contests. Lenora said her favorite wellness activity was an athletics contest where there were different stations — bowling, golf putting, ball throw — in each senior manager’s office.
“It not only focused on wellness, but team building within the organization,” she said.
Lenora described wellness programs as a win-win for employees and employers. They can increase productivity and lower health care costs.
She said the city of Olathe spent $284,000 on its program and saved $1.4 million in the first year. IMA of Kansas Inc. in Wichita reported that employees who participated in its wellness program had 39 percent lower medical claims.
“It’s such a positive thing to do for your employees. It’s a way of creating employee engagement and buy-in, in addition to the productivity and claims cost,” she said.
Local companies weigh in
During the symposium, representatives from four Lawrence companies talked about their wellness programs. Here are their success stories:
• Hallmark Cards Inc. — Sally Luck, human resources director, said the company began offering an online incentive program in January. Employees earn points by getting a health screening, exercising, joining a gym or participating in a tobacco cessation program. They can redeem the points for a gift card or paycheck credit. Each employee can earn up to $250 annually. She said about 4,500 employees are participating and have already earned about $500,000 in points.
• Cottonwood Inc. — Gay Ann Quinn, training coordinator, said the company, which has about 250 employees, recently had a health fair with 14 vendors. The fair drew about 100 participants. The company has had a wellness program since 2003 and they’ve found that “money works.” They are getting ready to offer a four-week wellness program and offering $250 in prizes.
• KU Endowment Association — Clark Cropp, vice president for senior administration, said KUEA provides four hours of paid time off to employees who complete a Health Risk Assessment, or HRA, and a followup survey. He said about 80 percent of its 140 employees complete the HRA. Next year, they plan to add a cost reduction on health insurance premiums for those who participate.
• Allen Press — Angie Sommers, benefits coordinator, said the company offers four hours of paid time off for those who attend at least four seminars about health-related issues and complete an HRA. It has 268 employees and about 70 percent complete the health assessment. Sommers’ goal is to have a smoke-free campus in 2012.
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