On the menu: Wellness programs

Making a corporate wellness program successful for all.

These days, wellness programs can set companies apart, often playing a dealmaker- or breaker-role when recruiting or retaining talent. The best wellness programs focus on the whole employee, both at work and at home, from exercise to relaxation and breakfast to dinner. Such programs offer education and resources, allowing the company to establish a closer relationship with employees while enhancing employee health, company culture and levels of productivity.

This was the focus of the recent “Return on Wellness” event hosted by foodservice management firm, Guckenheimer, at Takeda Pharmaceutical Company, in Deerfield, Ill. “You own your employees for 220 days a year, 40 hours a week,” Dr. Scott Conard observed in his presentation at the event. And because of the amount time people spend at work, employers are well positioned to impact employees’ overall health, Conard says. He also noted that nutrition, exercise and stress are the main known daily behaviors, but due to the day’s time demands, both exercise and stress are often out of one’s control. Nutrition, then, says Conard, is the only sure-fire behavior and is one area that an employer can greatly influence through a wellness program implemented within the company café.

Karen Rogers, vice president of Accountable Care, Accountable Patients Health (ACAP Health), in Dallas, also presenting at the event, explained that a successful wellness program involves senior leadership and a well-defined set of achievable goals, as well as measurement and tracking of program tactics, program flexibility and creativity to appeal to all employees, a long-term, multi-year plan commitment and clear communication. A successful wellness program can help to foster organizational well being and becomes a part of the company culture.

Currently, however, Rogers noted, the responsibility for wellness programs and reporting is fractured in many companies and it isn’t clear where the wellness responsibility lies. But as she described and Guckenheimer examples illustrate—such as the case at SanDisk in Milpitas, Calif.–with C-suite buy-in and understanding of the long-term implications a wellness program can have on employee productivity and company profit, corporate America can be a driver of change and make a successful wellness program the responsibility of the entire company.

“Start small,” Rogers suggested, by implementing education and awareness measures, such as making biometrics testing available on site and suggesting employees take advantage of it while promoting the benefits of doing so, and offer diverse incentive and penalty programs to encourage employees to make changes.

With current corporate spending totaling more than $20,000 a year for one employee who has diabetes with complications, according to Conard, investing in a wellness program can yield a 4-to-1 return on that investment compared with the money required to care for sick employees, making a wellness program as much a benefit for an employer’s bottom line as it is to an employee’s waistline.

The focus of a robust wellness program needs to go beyond the issue of obesity, Conard added. To avoid stigmatizing employees, the wellness conversation should focus on objective numbers, which can be obtained through biometric testing, and “metabolic syndrome.” According to the Mayo Clinic, in Minnesota, metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions, including increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels, that occur together, increasing one’s risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Conard developed the acronym “T.R.O.U.B.L.E.” to help remember the seven primary physical health markers important to identifying and avoiding metabolic syndrome:

Training and fitness
Roundness or body mass index (BMI)
Oil or fat levels
Unacceptable sugar levels
Blood pressure
Lousy habits in your life
Exploding plaque risk within your arteries

Obtained through biometric testing, the “T.R.O.U.B.L.E.” numbers can help determine where an employee lands on the health spectrum and what steps can be taken through a wellness program to help them improve their health.