While Congress continues to debate health-care reform legislation (will the law stay the same, change, or even be eliminated altogether?), many employers have started emphasizing wellness as a way to cut health-care costs. And a new survey from Principal Financial Group, conducted by Harris Interactive, indicates U.S. workers are embracing the idea.
The number of workers using weight-loss programs their companies offered surged to 53 percent in 2010—a 25 percent increase compared to the prior year, reports The Principal Financial Well-Being Index, which surveyed small and midsize U.S. companies. In fact, weight-loss-related benefits were one of employees’ most-wanted perks. Asked what health benefits they’d like their employers to offer, 27 percent of respondents said fitness facilities, 24 percent wanted discounts on fitness center memberships and 17 percent wanted weight-management programs at work.
“Americans in general are more aware of the impact of obesity on their health,” said Lee Dukes, president of Principal Wellness Company, a subsidiary of the Principal Financial Group, in announcing the results. “Employers and employees are asking for these programs more than in the past.”
Dukes also said the rise in the percentage of workers taking advantage of wellness benefits “is indicative of Americans’ greater sense of personal responsibility towards their own health.” Specifically, 68 percent used an employer’s personalized action plan for high-risk conditions (21 percent more than the previous year), and 84 percent took advantage of blood-sugar screenings (up from 66 percent in 2009).
Wellness benefits make sense for businesses for some obvious reasons. Employees who are healthy are less likely to miss work, get injured on the job or file health-insurance or workers’ compensation claims. The survey uncovered some other good reasons for offering wellness benefits: 43 percent of employees said wellness benefits motivated them to work harder; 48 percent said the benefits motivate them to stay with their employer; and 38 percent said wellness programs give them more energy and make them more productive at work.
Small companies aren’t as likely as bigger ones to be able to offer wellness programs, but more health insurers are beginning to offer this option. If yours doesn’t, here are some options to consider:
- Contact hospitals in your area to see what kind of education and outreach programs they offer.
- Investigate the Weight Watchers at Work program to offer a weight management plan in the office.
- Consider bartering services with local wellness providers to offer classes in yoga, stress management, smoking cessation or other wellness related topics in your workplace.
The best advice, though, is to lead by example. Provide healthy drinks and snacks for meetings and some low-calorie choices if you bring in lunch. Encourage employees to get away from their desks during lunch and walk, work out or just decompress. Discourage sick employees from coming to the office; if they must work, offer the option to work at home so your staff stays healthy. You get the idea. Small businesses need every player on the team in peak condition—a wellness program is one way to get there.
How does wellness figure into your workplace, and what benefits have you seen from it?