Moving beyond baby steps with wellness


By Samuel H. Fleet

Employers want to do the right thing when it comes to health benefits for their employees, not only because it is humane, but also because it makes good business sense to take care of their most important assets. As health benefits have become increasingly costly, employers have struggled to find the key to meeting healthcare needs without breaking the bank. Many have pinned their hopes on wellness initiatives, the most popular offerings including newsletters and websites, weight-loss programs and smoking cessation programs.

Why baby steps are not enough

The earliest wellness initiatives were grounded in the concept that once employees are confronted with information about unhealthy behaviors they will make improvements that will lead to better health.

Information alone, however, is rarely enough to make a difference. Employers are beginning to face the hard truth that giving employees access to wellness support has done little to change the overall health of their workforces. To reach that goal, they have to move beyond providing information to a much more effective level of wellness support: Employee health risk management.

Tying consequences to health risk management

Employee Health Risk Management is an approach that allows employers to actively manage the health risks of their employees. Among the tools are health risk assessments and biometric health screenings to help identify risks that are driving healthcare expenses.

When made mandatory for employees, these tools can be coupled with consequences. Instead of appealing to reason (“if you exercise, you will be healthier”), these advanced wellness initiatives provide both carrots and sticks to link an employee’s actions and outcomes to consequences. For example, people who continue to smoke even after having access to cessation support pay higher premiums for their health care. Or people who join a gym and use it three times a week pay lower premiums. Or a person who agrees to regular cholesterol and blood pressure screening earns an annual bonus. Ultimately the goal is to implement value-based plan designs tailor-made for employee populations.

Finding the right partner

When plans are well-designed, the requirements are both attainable and accompanied by support to help employees succeed. For example, a well-designed plan does not ask an employee to reduce Body Mass Index from 40 to 25 in one year.  A 10% or 15% reduction goal, supported by free access to plans like Weight Watchers, and supported with rewards and recognition may inspire the behavioral changes that will lead to a lower BMI with little further encouragement.

Wellness initiatives have always had the right idea: a healthy workforce costs less when it comes to health care benefits. But until recently, most have stopped short of the hard work it takes to get people to change their habits and lifestyles. In the era of health care reform, smart employers are stepping up their wellness efforts to make them more effective, and brokers are leading the way with cost-effective solutions. Now is the time to move beyond baby steps and actively manage the health and well-being of employees and their dependents.

11 Small Changes to Help Workers Manage Their Stress


You can't eliminate the stress your employees bring to work, but you can identify and eliminate organizational stressors. And you can provide tools and information to help workers manage their stress on their own.

Stress management expert Susie Mantell ( is a firm believer in the power of incremental steps when trying to manage stress on the job and at home. Here are some ideas Mantell recommends that you can use for a safety meeting on stress management:

·         Prioritize, streamline, delegate, and discard. When facing a task, ask if it's really necessary to do today, if there's an easier way to do it, or who might be able to help.

·         Break it up. Take 2- to 3-minute breaks every hour throughout the workday. Mantell also urges employees to "commit to doing one fun thing every single day without exception." Laugh, play a game, or cook a meal, as long as it's enjoyable.

·         Make time. Build time into your schedule for creative expression, healthy eating, moderate daily exercise, time with friends, and time in nature.

·         Be on time. "Last minute equals high risk," says Mantell. Running late creates stress in us as well as in others. Build in cushion time between appointments to allow for traffic and the unexpected.

·         Send negativity flying. If a co-worker is on the warpath, visualize an airplane with an advertising banner over that person's head. Imagine each negative word floating up into the banner, flying by and out of view. "Getting out of the line of fire can defuse a tense moment and preclude anxiety and stress," Mantell explains.

·         Relax and watch what happens. Do mini-meditations or mindful breathing while you're shifting between tasks or in line at the cafeteria. Getting a message, rocking a baby, rebuilding an engine, or playing an active sport can also produce a meditative state of relaxation.

·         Get essential nutrients. Go beyond vitamins and begin to think about daylight and laughter as essential daily nutrients. Get outside and take in some fresh air, even if it's just 10 minutes on a wintry day.

·         Consider what you're consuming. Rethink the role played by sugar, caffeine, and alcohol in your life. These can increase stress levels.

·         Watch your words. Negative internal chatter and self-recrimination are distracting and demoralizing. Never say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to your best friend.

·         Be kind. Do something kind for a different co-worker every day. Mantell points to the "cumulative, positive transformation that takes place when it becomes second nature to create joy and reduce stress for others."

·         Sleep on it. Sleep deprivation is threatening to become an epidemic in the United States, and stress is a major culprit. Try to get restful, restorative sleep every day, and watch your stress level decline.


Fight Back Against Workplace Stress


Stress is a big problem in the workplace, and the signs are everywhere.

Ever awaken at 3 a.m. in a sweaty panic over a work problem, a presentation you have to make, or looming deadline? Maybe you've lost your temper with the kids when the real problem was related to work.

The signs and symptoms of job stress are many and diverse—from a racing pulse to skipped meals, headaches, weight gain, depression, and lack of energy.

Whatever the cause, and however it manifests, workplace stress continues to be a problem—one that can cause reduced productivity, increase in accidents, and a spike in costs.

Stress Stats

The American Psychological Association (APA) observes that, "While stress levels appear to be balancing out, they remain high and exceed what Americans consider to be healthy."

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According to the APA and other sources:

·         69 percent of employees say work is a significant source of stress, and 41 percent say they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday.

·         51 percent of employees report that they have considered or made a decision about their career (such as leaving a job or declining a promotion) based on workplace stress.

·         While more than half of adults say they are doing a good or excellent job of knowing when they feel stressed, half of them aren't doing as well at preventing stress.

·         Although 94 percent of adults believe stress can contribute to the development of major illness, a sizeable majority still thinks that stress has a slight or no impact on their own health.

·         More employees are reporting that their employers provide sufficient opportunities for them to be involved in decision making, problem solving, and goal setting—one hopeful sign, since these are all steps believed to reduce employee stress.

Signs of Stress

As if life outside of the workplace isn't stressful enough for most people, when they come to work, they often encounter more stress—lack of control over work, heavy workloads, productivity demands, tight schedules, conflicts with co-workers, and worries about job stability.

When workers are stressed for any combination of reasons, the effects can be insidious. Dr. Albert Ray, physician director of Patient Education and Health Promotion for Kaiser Permanente in southern California, points to common signs and symptoms of stress:

·         Acting angry and having a short temper

·         Dealing with others in a curt, inhospitable manner

·         Being present, but not fully productive

·         Transformation from a friendly team player to an introvert

·         Mocking the organization's strategies and visions

·         Physical symptoms, ranging from itchy skin to chest pain, fatigue, abdominal cramping, and ringing of the ears, among many others

·         Emotional problems like depression, anxiety, compulsive behavior, and substance abuse

And, of course, another symptom is carelessness. Workers may be too tense or worn out to pay attention and take proper precautions. That's when stress can lead to accidents and injuries.


Wellness Programs Can Reduce Worker Medical Costs by 18 Percent: Study


By Sheena Harrison

Workplace wellness programs can reduce medical costs by more than 18 percent for the average worker, according to a report published by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The January edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published by the Elk Grove Village, Illinois-based ACOEM, includes a study titled "Medical Care Savings From Workplace Wellness Programs: What Is a Realistic Savings Potential?"

The report said wellness programs could reduce costs for risks such as physical inactivity, smoking, high blood pressure and obesity. If the risk factors were lowered to "theoretical minimums," health care expenses could be lowered by an average of $650, or 18.4 percent, for all working adults, the study said.

Cost savings can reach up to 28 percent for aging employees and retirees who participate in wellness programs, according to the study.

"Medical care savings from workplace wellness programs will increase with time given that more eligible wellness program members participate, effective control of heightened risk factors improves, and greater risk reversal can be achieved," the report says.


Employees' top 10 desired perks for the workplace


Since 32% of employers reported that top performers left their organizations in 2012 and 39% are concerned that they'll lose top talent in 2013, many are asking current employees for feedback on how to increase job satisfaction. According to a new CareerBuilder survey, 26% of workers said that providing special perks is an effective way to improve employee retention. Here are the 10 that scored highest when workers were asked to identify one perk that would make their workplace more satisfying.

1. Half-day Fridays

The top choice for 40% of employees surveyed was early dismissal on Fridays. According to Mercer research, work-life balance could recharge employee engagement and help retain employees.

2. On-site fitness center

Twenty percent of workers said providing easy access to gyms would increase their job satisfaction. A HealthFitness expert offers 10 tips in this slide show for building and sustaining a culture of health in the workplace.

3. Ability to wear jeans

Having a casual dress code was the most preferred perk by 18% of employees and doesn't cost employers a dime to implement.

4. Daily catered lunches

On the other hand, 17% of employees wished their employer would provide daily lunches, which could improve productivity in addition to satisfaction if workers don’t need to leave the office to buy food.

5. Massages

Employees who wanted massages to relax in the workplace (16%) may be on to something as experts claim massage therapy can boost morale, increase productivity and even help with attraction and retention.

6. Nap room

The Huffington Post and Google have created napping rooms or pods in their offices, a perk that 12% of employees wanted most, according to CareerBuilder. Arianna Huffington said “I love seeing our hard-working reporters disappear into the nap room,” and joked: “We haven’t seen any disappear in pairs yet, but we’re watching for it!”

7. Rides to and from work

Not only could office-provided transportation or organized carpooling save employees stressful commutes, sharing a ride could help them save money on transportation or fuel costs. No wonder 12% desire this perk most from their employers.

8. Snack cart that comes around the office

Having a snack cart patrol the office would permit employees to munch happily while never leaving their desks. Eight percent of employees said this perk would most improve their job satisfaction.

9. Private restroom

Having their own restroom would make 7% of workers very appreciative, though employers may have trouble giving this perk to every employee.

10. On-site daycare

Home Depot agrees with 6% of workers that on-site daycare is a perk worth having. The company’s onsite child care facility has space for 278 children and is available to all employees in the Atlanta area, not just those who work at the head office.



Weight Loss Is Employees’ Top New Year’s Resolution


Thirty-nine percent of employees say losing weight is their top health concern while 26 percent say stress has them most worried, according to a ComPsych Tell It Now poll released today. ComPsych is the world’s largest provider of employee assistance programs and is the pioneer and leading provider of fully integrated EAP, behavioral health, wellness, work-life, HR and FMLA administration services under the GuidanceResources brand.

“Weight loss is, not surprisingly, the number one health concern this year,” said Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, Chairman and CEO of ComPsych. “What is significant is that many more employees are aware of stress as a major contributor to health problems. Corporate wellness programs that address both physical and emotional health are uniquely suited to help employees make lasting lifestyle changes, which will ultimately reduce health and disability costs while improving productivity.”

Employees were asked:  Which health issue are you most trying to stay ahead of this year?

39 percent said “weight loss”
26 percent said “stress”
17 percent said “exercise”
9 percent said “diet improvement”
6 percent said “quitting smoking”
3 percent said “other”

ComPsych’s build-to-suit health and wellness program – HealthyGuidance® -- targets employee behavior and lifestyle issues before they become significant health risks. Drawing upon more than 25 years of behavioral health experience, HealthyGuidance uses a consultative, high-touch approach, empowering employees to make healthy lifestyle changes through expert guidance. The program offers:

• Comprehensive health risk assessments and screenings
• Live, telephonic wellness coaching with behavioral, health and nutrition experts
• Online health management tools including diet and exercise programs and incentive tracking
• Action-oriented wellness seminars, turn-key wellness challenges and award-winning communications
• Targeted programs such as tobacco cessation, weight management, stress reduction and more

More adults need vaccines, and not just for flu: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

By David Beasley

The flu isn't the only illness adults should be immunized against, U.S. health officials said on Tuesday, as a new study found current adult vaccination rates in the country "unacceptably low."

The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that a "substantial increase" in adult vaccinations is needed to prevent diseases including pneumonia, tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis, shingles and whooping cough.

"Far too few adults are getting vaccinated against these important diseases, and we need to do more," said Dr. Howard Koh, an assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In 2011, there were 37,000 cases of invasive pneumonia in the United States, and most of the 4,000 people who died from the illness were over the age of 50, Koh said.

The CDC, a federal agency, recommends that older patients at risk for pneumonia receive vaccinations for the disease, he said.

Adults who don't get vaccinated can put others, including children, at risk, Koh said. In 2012, 9,300 adults were diagnosed with whooping cough out of a total of 42,000 cases.

"When the source is identified, four out of five babies who got whooping cough caught it from someone in the home, a parent, sister, brother, grandparent or babysitter," he said. "These are just examples of why adult vaccines are critical to the public health of our country."

Some vaccines, such as flu shots, are recommended for all adults, the CDC said. Others are suggested based on a patient's age and overall health.

"We are encouraging all adults to talk with their health care providers about which vaccines are appropriate for them," Koh said.

(Reporting by David Beasley; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Cynthia Johnston and Andrew Hay)


Five trends in wellness incentives for 2013

By Mark Hall

Five trends in wellness incentives for 2013

Employers want return of investment for their wellness programs. They want to know what incentive dollars are really being used for. Here are five trends to look for in wellness incentives in 2013.

1. Personalization of incentives

The idea of incentivizing people to participate in wellness programs is one of the few to be embraced with equal enthusiasm across the board.

While the concept held enough innovation and promise to spur health plans and employers to spend over $60 billion last year to motivate consumers to engage in health, incentives have often been primitive in execution. Incentive dollars flow to plan members as reward or encouragement for healthy behaviors, but what consumers do with that money has until now been largely a mystery to employers and health insurers.

A 2009 survey conducted by MasterCard and Harris Interactive found 61% of employees participate in a wellness program if incentives are offered versus only 26% when there is no added incentive. Additionally, 25% of employees reported that being incentivized was actually the driver and the very reason they agreed to enroll in a wellness program at all.

Instead, the answer is to better tailor the incentives to fit the person, and to provide incentives that motivate while driving program ROI. A recent study from the Journal of Economic Psychology shows consumers prefer to be incentivized with cash. Yet the utility of cash (even cash rebated to a paycheck) leads many to decisions that fail to drive long-term engagement, satisfaction and ultimately outcomes.

2. Incentives tailored around health related products and services

Health incentives need to focus on an emotional affinity felt by participants toward earned rewards—a paradigm that has the potential to create the initial embrace of health behavior change and perpetuate it. Yet, today’s healthcare dollars are stretched thin, and employers want to make sure every dime spent on health and wellness programs is targeted to accomplish health goals. They have increasingly offered discounts to fitness clubs, healthy foods, supplements and Weight Watchers as incentives.

3.  New focus on analytics

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) increases the cap on wellness incentives—now at 20% of an employee’s total health insurance premium cost—to 30% and then 50% by 2014. This provides an opportunity to create an incentive program with influence.

Yet as increasing dollar amounts are being driven towards wellness/incentive programs; understanding exactly how funds are being spent; what they are being spent on; and how the actual spending is impacting outcomes and ROI will be critical to understanding the overall impact and success of wellness incentive programs. To that end, rich new data sets being driven by innovation in payments technology will play a key role over the next 18 to 24 months in determining how funds can better be allocated within programs to achieve results.

4.  Deeper integration of wellness incentives into overall care continuum

Through a richer data set of spend analytics tied back into larger Big Data initiatives focused on efficient healthcare dollar allocation, the role of wellness incentives, their impact on behavioral economics, and ultimately their importance within the overall care continuum will be far better understood. Health plans and employers will increasingly have the ability to design and integrate highly targeted incentive dollar programs to reduce costs, and improve outcomes.

5.  Continued focus on gamification

The recent gamification of wellness programs, employee challenges and the role that both competition and fun in wellness program engagement will continue, as these wellness tools have proven successful in driving initial and—in many cases—longer term engagement and results. That said, there will be an increased focus in 2013 on the actual currency being offered as rewards.

According to a March 2012 study by Fidelity and the National Business Group on Health, employers on average are spending a $169 per-employee per-year on wellness platforms. Yet they are spending nearly three times that on the actual incentive, or $460 per-employee per-year. The incentive dollars represent the single greatest investment into wellness programs. Until now, these dollars have been limited in their ability to be tangibly measured and evaluated for their effectiveness. This will be a critical area of change in 2013, and one that will fundamentally shift how actual incentive dollars are perceived and utilized across all aspects of healthcare to drive cost reduction.