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Wellness programs: What’s working

In an effort to stem the ever-rising health care costs and increase worker productivity, more companies are implementing corporate wellness initiatives. While the following examples are from major corporations, the principals have universal application:

Pepsi offers prepaid debit card for wellness participation
A whopping 70% of Pepsi’s 33,500 employees responded to the offer of a $75 prepaid debit MasterCard for participating in a health assessment. To encourage employees who needed follow-up help, Pepsi offered $100 to workers who attended classes on smoking cessation, diabetes management, high-risk maternity or depression. The company expects to see a $1.50 to $2 return for every $1 it invests.

Red Sox incorporate workplace wellness into Curt Schilling’s contract
The Boston Red Sox signed Curt Schilling to a one-year deal that ties $2 million of his pay to meeting certain weight targets at six weigh-ins next year. On his blog, the 40 year-old pitcher acknowledged that he was overweight when he reported to spring training this year and that it adversely affected his performance, missing several weeks due to injury and winning just nine games in the regular season. “Given the mistakes I made last winter and into Spring Training I needed to show them (Red Sox) I recognized that, and understood the importance of it. Being overweight and out of shape are two different things. I also was completely broad sided by the fact that your body doesn’t act/react the same way, as you get older. Even after being told that for the first 39 years of my life.”

Union Pacific Railroad long standing program builds health into culture
Successful wellness programs are often branded to provide greater recognition and Union Pacific’s is called HealthTrack. Based in Omaha, NE, Union Pacific offers some companywide benefits, including health risk assessments and stop smoking plans. But much of the program, including regional walking contests and group weight-loss efforts, is administered locally. HeatlhTrack includes a “health index” report card that provides feedback to managers on their health and safety efforts. Managers’ health initiatives are included in their annual review.
It works: the proportion of health insurance claims related to lifestyle has dropped by 11% over 11 years.

Supermarket chain, Hannaford Bros., combines education and incentives
Hannaford Bros has a comprehensive program that includes on-site wellness professionals, health risk assessment and identification, behavior modification education and evidenced-based, integrated care and disease management. "Health Huddles," are impromptu, interactive meetings where various health topics, such as daily salt intake and the impact on health, are discussed.

Financial incentives are also offered to employees who complete a health risk assessment, are tobacco-free or enter a tobacco cessation program, and participate in disease management initiatives.

According to Ellie Udeh, the manager of wellness initiatives for the supermarket chain,
the incentives have been extremely effective at encouraging participation. Almost 90% of employees and their spouses now complete health risk appraisals and 95% of people participating in disease management programs accepted calls from the wellness coaches, so the company has taken the financial incentive away from only 5% of those who signed up for the program.

The result: Health risk appraisal data showed a decrease in the number of employees identified as being at risk for stress conditions from 27% in 2005 to 16% in 2006, while the number of employees at-risk for heart disease dropped from 21% to 16%.

Wellness programs focus on promoting preventive behaviors and healthier life styles. The challenge is reaching the employees who can benefit most from the programs and maintaining their involvement. Additionally, companies need to carefully navigate the legal and privacy issues surrounding wellness programs to ensure that they comply with federal and state laws. Before instituting a program, it is best to review with your attorney.