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Workplace wellness programs continue to grow

While the direct costs of health care and Workers’ Compensation have long been issues for employers, employers only recently have embraced wellness as a business strategy to improve productivity. Savings from Workers’ Compensation costs for healthy workers can range from 10% to 30% compared to others in your industry that have less healthy employees.

According to a recent survey by Watson Wyatt, a leading global consulting firm, and the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), an association of more than 300 mostly large employers, companies continue to add wellness and health management programs to promote healthier behaviors among their workers, despite the recession and recent cutbacks in some benefit programs. Effective financial incentives are one of the keys to encouraging worker participation in these programs.

According to the survey, even moderate incentives can help engage employees in healthy behaviors. Financial incentives between $51 and $100 can boost participation in smoking cessation and weight management programs and encourage workers to get biometric screenings. Higher participation in health risk appraisals is associated with incentives greater than $100. However, financial incentives have limited impact on participation in disease management programs.

The survey acknowledges that employee participation in some wellness programs remains a challenge. One approach is to learn about the issues that discourage employees from making positive health changes. Use focus groups or surveys to identify barriers to health improvement. Employees may complain they don’t have time to exercise or attend wellness programs, or that the programs are too expensive or inconveniently located.

Employees sometimes presume that their health issues are not serious enough to merit concern, nor do they realize that their illness or injury may be a result of lifestyle choices. Attack each barrier head-on; educate employees that their wellness is in their control and continually encourage employees to change their behavior.