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Business trends: Corporate wellness

Encouraging healthy workers benefits them and the bottom line

Office fitness areas are part of many businesses’ wellness programs.  - Photo by Laura Lee Dobson
By Joanne Friedrick
August 04, 2011

When budgets are tight companies often look for ways to get a handle on expenses. And at the rate that healthcare costs have risen in the past decade, better management of healthcare dollars could provide significant savings. For some companies, adding a wellness program is one approach.

In their “Employee Health Benefits 2010” report, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET) note the average annual health insurance premiums for employers rose 114 percent between 2000 and 2010 and the worker contribution was up 147 percent in that same period.

In an effort to reduce costs as well as improve health, the report says that in 2010, 74 percent of companies offering health benefits had at least one type of wellness program such as a weight-loss aid, reduced-cost gym memberships or on-site exercise facilities or a smoking cessation program. Just a year earlier, only 58 percent of companies reported having such options. The increase, according to the report, is because of the addition of web-based programs instituted by smaller firms.

The KFF report findings are similar to what Nancy Ngai, VP-health promotion and clinical integration for Plus One, has seen among the New York-based company’s clientele. “At Plus One, we conduct a company wellness assessment and then help [companies], based on their needs, launch the appropriate program,” she says.

The scope of corporate wellness varies from company to company, she notes, based on the size of the employee population, the office set-up, physical resources, management buy-in and budget. “It can be a newsletter or webinars or a full-on intervention,” she says, noting the latter may include health-based programs, on-site fitness centers and nutrition consultations.

Most companies start with health risk assessments to evaluate the population, says Ngai. From there, the idea is to incorporate one or two motivational pieces, such as seminars on weight loss or walking programs. “Then in the second or third year, you would move into more robust programs and interventions,” she says, which could include health screenings by an on-site doctor to help support weight loss or other initiatives.

The motivations for starting a corporate wellness program may differ, says Ngai, but the majority of adopters participate to maintain or manage healthcare costs. Other benefits can be more engaged, alert employees and fewer absences, all leading to a higher productivity level.

Healthier eating is often part of a corporate wellness program, says Ngai, especially when employees are eating many meals at the office.

Seafood can definitely fit into a healthy eating program, depending on how it is prepared, says Ngai. “One of the simple ways to modify diets is based on calorie intake, and that can mean incorporating seafood,” she adds.

In its corporate wellness catering menu, The Southern Gourmet, a Charlotte, N.C.-caterer and restaurant, features several seafood items, including a Shrimp & Vegetable Grill, Salmon Bruschetta and Salmon & Shrimp Piccata.

Crystal Provance, president of The Southern Gourmet, implemented the corporate wellness option with her husband, Randy, around 2006.

Like Ngai, Provance notes that seafood is “calorie friendly” and both shrimp and salmon are versatile enough that she can create interesting dishes using them.

The menus aren’t bland, Provance says, nor are they diet food. “It’s really about how the dishes are prepared.”

Companies of any size can institute a corporate wellness program. “A lot of it is about education,” Ngai says, offering suggestions like tapping into online resources, or setting up simple programs such as Meatless Mondays or Wellness Wednesdays.

Cost can be a challenge, she says, depending on what the goals are for the company and how the program is carried out. The big discussion in the wellness industry right now, she says, is over the use of incentives. Some companies offer prizes or monetary incentives, like lowered healthcare contributions, to get employees to participate. But Ngai says while incentives may engage people initially, the personal benefits are what should spur them in the long run.

 

Contributing Editor Joanne Friedrick lives in Portland, Maine

 

 

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