Cultivating Corporate Wellness

by Eddie Papis
Hopedale Medical Complex

A successful corporate wellness program de-emphasizes short-term goals and promotes long-term participation.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” creates widespread healthcare changes in 2013 for both employers and employees. Employers who choose to be proactive, rather than reactive, will be better prepared to handle these many changes. Taking a proactive approach can help reduce the chance for confusion and anxiety among employees during the transition. As Obama- care advances, corporate wellness plans are becoming more popular as employers encourage a team approach to keep their employees’ (and their families') healthcare costs under control.

An effective corporate wellness program will shift the focus away from weight loss and exercise to more subtle changes in the employee’s lifestyle and “culture.” Weight loss and exercise programs have been the basis of many unsuccessful corporate fitness programs because they focus only on employee fitness. Participants found these two goals to be an overwhelming challenge, especially if they were a bit de-conditioned.

A successful corporate approach should start with clear objectives to address the long-term participation and wellness of employees. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • An easy and well-defined starting point. The program must be extremely easy to understand. For example, the staff can take part in a quick and fun online Health Risk Assessment at their convenience. Employers should provide assistance during work hours for employees to start the process and to explain procedures and assessment results. Automatic “group” signup is also recommended.
  • Certified trainers and professionals on hand. Not only is this the number-one trend in fitness, it is becoming the basis for how employees perceive their program. When underqualified or nonqualified persons are leading the charge, the chance of success is diminished, and the morale of employees is weakened considerably. If employees perceive the company as committed to the success of the program, they will be more inclined to be committed as well. Nurses, dietitians, certified trainers and wellness coaches leading the program will give it the validity it needs to succeed.
  • Buy-in from the top. Management and officers must be committed to the program as much as rank-and-file employees. Their own personal commitment is one of the most powerful messages they can send to staff. So bosses, prepare to head to the gym and be seen eating right—and not smoking!
  • Promote participation incentives, not consequences. The idea is to offer more carrots than sticks. The more employees understand the program will benefit them and their families, the more engaged and involved they will become. If employees perceive punitive consequences, they will most likely stay away. Discounts on health insurance, cash rewards, and perhaps, extra vacation time can be great ways to help promote the wellness program.
  • Require measurable outcomes. Employers should be transparent about the benefits of the program and how its ongoing success demonstrates that the employer is sincere in its goal to improve its greatest asset—its employees. It is important to clearly define the purpose of the program and show the correlation of participant success to the employer’s and employees’ insurance cost savings.

An organized company wellness program benefits both employers and employees in managing the costs of healthcare, but it requires a change in culture. This begins with a long-term commitment to success, starting at the top of the organization. Using biometrics to manage goals (BMI, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc.) is much more effective than a “Biggest Loser” contest. A successful corporate health program will have a positive effect on each member’s wellness and cultivate a happier, more engaged and productive staff. And the best part is that it saves money! This is an atmosphere in which everyone benefits. iBi

Eddie Papis is the wellness director at Hopedale Medical Complex. He can be reached at (309) 449-4512 or epapis@hopedalemc.com.

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