Healthy Living, Healthy Working

Jennifer Gatewood

Worksite health promotion and health programs are becoming more of a corporate mainstay, as employers try to keep down health benefit costs and attract and retain employees.

One of your employees is a truck driver on a long haul, and suddenly he feels sick. He suffers from a cardiac problem and diabetes. He pulls over, dials a number, and is instantly connected to someone who quickly evaluates his condition and persuades him to go to the nearest hospital where he undergoes a necessary bypass surgery.

Because the truck driver pulled over and found help by dialing a number, the employer was able to avoid costs from a potential accident. Rarely do real-life situations like this one end so well, but this was an actual situation. Philadelphia-based Intracorp, a provider of worksite health programs, uses the truck driver story to illustrate its nurse line service. Indeed, that someone the truck driver called was a registered nurse, made available by the trucker’s employer as part of a worksite health promotion and health program. Nurse lines like this one and other types of health promotion programs are quickly becoming a mainstay in the workplace.

Playing for Keeps

Worksite health promotion and health programs are becoming a popular way to help keep employees healthy, which will in turn keep down health benefits costs, and happy, which will help attract and retain employees. Over the past three decades since the start of these programs, there has been an increase in the number of employers that offer these programs.

Worksite health promotion refers to the systematic approach by an organization to enhance the health of the company’s employees. These efforts may take the form of awareness education, behavior and lifestyle change, and peer support programs.

A survey published last February by New York-based William M. Mercer Inc. found that 46 percent of respondents have a health management program in place, while an additional 21 percent are considering a worksite health program. Most of the plans offer health promotion services–lifestyle modification initiatives designed to help reduce risk and maintain good health, such as smoking cessation and weight loss programs. Other initiatives include disease prevention and disease management and self-care education.

A 1998 survey by The Conference Board revealed the five most common worksite health programs include mental health, onsite fitness centers, prenatal services, cardiovascular care, and smoking cessation. The survey found that 45 percent of respondents have implemented these programs, mostly as a way to reduce high insurance and disability costs.

According to Ron Goetzel, a vice president with the Washington-based Medstat Group, a technology provider to the health care industry, the concept of wellness programs in the workplace began in the 1970s when companies became more aware of their health care spending and began to think about prevention.

RewardsPlus of America, an employee benefits provider, reported in a June 1999 study that 52 percent of U.S. companies view retention and recruitment as the number one employment issue facing employers today. This, according to Ken Barksdale, president of Baltimore-based RewardsPlus, is the top reason that employers implement worksite health promotion programs.

“As far as keeping health costs down, obviously a healthier work force is going to give the employer better results,” Barksdale says.

Kathleen Leone, vice president of marketing for Intracorp, notes that as employers offer these programs they will be increasing work productivity and reducing health claims costs.

According to a summer 1999 review by Goetzel and his colleagues on the return-on-investment for these health promotion programs, about $3.14 in benefits is saved for every dollar spent.

“In the 21st century, there will be much more of a focus on productivity versus cost avoidance,” Goetzel says. “For the last 20 years, the health care industry in this country has focused on how to manage and contain utilization and costs. But nobody’s happy with the way managed care is being handled.

“What will happen in the next few years is that there will be more of an emphasis on how to improve productivity of workers,” Goetzel continues. “And it may be that you actually have to give them more medical care rather than less medical care. That’s a twist in the paradigm.”

In fact, being impaired while at work caused an average estimated loss of 1.3 to 5.6 days in productivity over a four-week period studied by Employers Health Coalition Inc. in Tampa, Fla.

Making it Work

Regardless of the reasons why more employers are turning toward worksite health promotion and health management programs, these programs will not work if they are not good or if employees are not using them. According to Diane Eynon, vice president of business development for Continuum Health Care Inc. based in Springfield, Pa., good health promotion should act both as a preventive program and as a wellness program. And these programs should not only attract the low-risk employees who are usually more inclined to take part in these programs, but they should attract the high-risk worker as well.

And these programs should be useful and necessary to employees. It is important for the employer to choose the right health programs, says Dr. Jeannine Stuart, who has a degree in exercise physiology and is a consultant with Philadelphia-based AREUFIT, a corporate wellness service that offers worksite health programs. “It would be senseless for companies to say that they want to start a smoking cessation program, and then they find out that 80 percent of their employees already don’t smoke,” she says.

According to Eynon, the support from senior management in making employees aware of these programs is also a crucial factor in making these programs work. “Health promotion is like anything else: you have to promote it, market it, create value for the end user. If an organization can do that through its health promotion efforts, it will see better participation rates,” she says.

Jean Chambers, communication manager for Intracorp, also agrees that communication is the key to making worksite health promotion a success. “You have to communicate this service. You can’t present it once and walk away.”

J.D. Edwards, a software company in Denver that is ranked number 45 on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work for in America” list, uses e-mail, posters, and word of mouth to let employees know about its available worksite health programs, which include onsite mammograms, cardiovascular screening, a fitness center, weight loss programs, and CPR classes. These programs are part of the company’s effort to keep employees happy and healthy, an important aspect of J.D. Edwards’ corporate culture.

“That’s a very strong idea here, caring for our employees. We embody that in the number of (worksite health) programs that we offer,” says Melinda Hall, director of compensation and benefits at J.D. Edwards. “The health coverage really embodies our culture more completely where we’re taking care of our employees, or more importantly, giving employees the opportunity to take care of themselves.”

Kansas City, Mo.-based Cerner, a provider of information and knowledge systems for health care organizations, is number 85 on Fortune’s list and has had worksite health programs since its inception in 1979. It has been providing onsite immunizations for 10 years and has opened its biggest worksite health promoter, the Cerner Associate Center Athletic Club, in 1995.

Says Stan Sword, chief people officer at Cerner: “This was about a $5 million to $6 million investment, which was huge for a company that had at the time just over $100 million in annual revenue. But we saw the need in the future, as we were building our next generation of application software, to be able to attract top talent to Cerner.” He says Cerner was looking for a way to help potential employees differentiate the company from other technology companies it competes with.

“We made that investment as a way to help attract people, we thought we would retain them, we thought it would reduce the cost, and it’s done all three,” says Sword.

One thousand of the 1,700 employees in Cerner’s Kansas City, Mo., headquarters use the center, and another 300 employees nationwide belong to local health clubs that are subsidized by the company.

Experts say technology companies such as Cerner and J.D. Edwards are more likely to offer worksite health programs because of their younger, more competitive, and health-conscious work force.

Bruce Kelley, health care consultant for Watson Wyatt Worldwide in Minneapolis, explains that employers will find it cost-effective to initiate worksite health programs for long-term workers because the investments they make will pay off in the end–with healthy employees who use fewer health care services, which helps to keep benefit costs down.

Conversely, businesses with high turnover rates and an unskilled labor pool are less likely to offer these programs because the employees aren’t there long enough to benefit from the programs.

Keeping Stress Out of the Workplace

Experts say that employees in all industries may suffer more from on-the-job stress today than 30 years ago, seen as the beginning of the worksite health promotion movement.

Newly developed, created by Interactive Health. Systems in Santa Monaco, Calif., offers a worksite health program via the Internet as a confidential way for employers to monitor the needs of their employees. Employees anonymously and privately complete four interactive programs online. “We’re trying to get people to the right care and get those people who can help themselves to. be able to help themselves,” says Dr. Roger Gould, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA and founder and CEO of Interactive Health Systems. He notes the early users of this service will at first probably be the information, industries, though the site is open to all professions.

AREUFIT, a corporate health promotion wellness service business based in Philadelphia, has been offering stress management through onsite massages for the past five years. The 10-minute session performed by a certified masseuse is focused on removing muscle fatigue that can be caused as a result of stress. According to Dr. Jeannine Stuart, a consultant with AREUFIT, the massages have been a popular service offered by employers as a way to maintain employee happiness. She adds that accounting firms have been more inclined to use this service, especially around tax time.

Nurse lines, such as the one provided by Philadelphia-based Intracorp, relieve stress by not causing the employee to worry about where to go to for health information. Kathleen Leone, vice president of marketing at Intracorp, says all types of industries ask for this service for their employees, though mostly financial services and technology companies are interested in nurse lines.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Axon Group

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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