By Amanda Brock
Courtesy to The Bellingham Business Journal
With the cost of health care continuing to rise, employers are seeking creative ways to reduce their cost of benefits while preserving their abilities to appeal to the workforce. “Wellness” is now the health care industry’s buzz word.
The advantages of implementing a wellness program are possibly reducing health care costs, while providing a tangible program that becomes an added benefit.
Some of Whatcom County’s largest employers have pioneered the wellness frontier, developing programs that excite their employees and ultimately improve their well-being.
By changing their employees lifestyles to include healthy habits, these employers can potentially see a decrease in doctor visits, medication usage and absenteeism. Additional gains could be higher productivity and fewer workers’ compensation claims.
So what are they doing?
One Ferndale-based company provides its employees with healthy snacks every day, including fruits, vegetables and an assortment of cheeses. They hold company-wide activity days with a structured run or walk and also provide on-site areas to exercise.
Participation in healthy eating and physical fitness challenges are rewarded with prizes, and personal improvement goals are celebrated with positive recognition.
Wellness fairs have also become more popular in recent years. These fairs can include education on a variety of topics such as healthy eating or fitness. Vendors such as local chiropractors, gyms, dentists, and insurance companies can also be asked to participate.
Some companies are even extending the invitation to their fairs to their employees’ spouses, as more studies are showing that healthy habits start a home.
For smaller companies, it may seem cumbersome to implement programs of the same caliber as companies with more than 100 employees. Although the available resources may be more restrictive, it is still possible for a small company to have an effective wellness program.
Companies of any size can take advantage of data provided by biometric testing. This type of screening is offered by a third party administrator and individual results are kept completely confidential.
A common misconception by employers is that the information from these tests will be shared with their health insurance provider. But this is not the case. Unless an employer specifically shares the data with a carrier, they are not notified of the results.
The purpose of biometric testing is to give the employer a reference point to what health issues are affecting their employees, so a plan can be crafted to address them. Some employers offer a discount on an employee’s insurance premium as an incentive to participate in testing since it is completely voluntary.
Although individual data is confidential, an employer may also consider sharing the aggregate data with their employees as a positive reinforcement should statistics improve year to year.
Once a company has the biometric data as a reference point, a customized plan can be put in place. Current programs can also be modified, even on a budget.
Wellness resources are available online including free webinars, campaign ideas, budget calculators, implementation guides, health and wellness observances calendars and employee communication materials.
Employers should always check for free or reduced cost services that are available through their health care insurance provider. Additionally, employee benefit consultants are a great contact to find local resources or to explore what is available through a specific carrier.
New information continues to emerge on how effective these programs are in retention and recruitment strategies. Whether a business follows in the footsteps of the local pioneers or takes advantage of the resources that have been highlighted, wellness programs are well within grasp for any business.
Amanda Brock is the marketing and events coordinator for The Unity Group in Bellingham.