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Businesses of all sizes remain interested in employee wellness programs as a way to engage workers and encourage them to make healthy choices, according to recent employer benefits surveys.

The idea is that a healthier workforce will help counter the rising costs of health care. However, the return on investment can be difficult to measure.

Nevertheless, employers remain interested in exploring new forms of targeted engagement, reaching employees that have not participated in the past and tracking workers’ health progress.

Providing incentives

Getting employees involved can be a key challenge of wellness programs when they’re first getting started. One way to encourage participation is to provide incentives for healthy habits. According to Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2017 Employer Health Benefits Survey, 32 percent of large firms offer workers an incentive to participle in or complete a program such as smoking cessation, weight management, behavior or lifestyle coaching. Incentives included gift cards, merchandise, cash, contributions to a health savings account and lower premium contributions.

Michelle Nichter, benefits supervisor at wire manufacturer Fort Wayne Metals, said the company encourages participation by keeping track of employees’ wellness movements.

“An employee can go on our intranet and log any and all activities, meetings and screenings and they will earn a certain number of points. These points can be turned in for gift cards to a wide variety of places. In addition to this, all employees earn wellness incentives for attending annual screenings, which are worth a total of 500 points. These points are then turned into a monetary value, which allows all employees to get a possible $500 deducted from their insurance premiums for the following year,” she said.

Targeting topics

One of the programs that Micropulse Inc. offers is educational sessions each month when a wellness coach from Parkview Health does sessions on things like lowering blood pressure and diabetes prevention. The company, which manufactures implants, instruments and other tools for the orthopedics industry, has worked with its insurer to take a close look at claims so that it can determine what topics would be most beneficial to the employee base, said Baily Beiswanger, human resource manager at Micropulse.

The company has also made an effort to target more employees by providing a variety of programming ranging from supporting employees who want to participate in Fort4Fitness or the company’s annual dodgeball tournament to five-minute chair massages for employees once a year.

In addition to targeting different groups, programming also targets different areas of wellness such as the social aspect with activities such as family picnics, cookouts and a French toast breakfast where the CEO, CFO and general manager cook for employees.

“We try to do a mixture of things because we know that everything we do isn’t going to be targeted toward everybody,” she said.

Holistic approach

Nichter said the programming at Fort Wayne Metals creates opportunities for employees to improve their lives in regard to “all spokes of the wellness wheel.” An on-site wellness director offers one-on-one sessions that help employees assess their intellectual, social, physical, spiritual, financial, occupational and emotional wellness, she said. The company offers financial planning meetings and schedules one-on-ones to go over employee retirement and investment options. The culture department makes sure that employees have community service opportunities to participate in.

“Wellness is more than just eating healthy or working out. Personal wellness is taking care of the whole person, therefore it is imperative to make sure that as an employer you are offering opportunities for your employees to better themselves intellectually, socially, physically, spiritually, financially, occupationally and emotionally,” Nichter said.

The payoff

Perhaps the biggest downfall of wellness programs is estimating the return on investment, said Beiswanger. The goal is prevention and it’s impossible to know what health issues have been prevented. The company is working with their insurer to find ways of measuring the impact of wellness programs.

Nichter shared similar comments, saying that it’s difficult to gauge the return on investment because it’s hard to measure events that would’ve taken place had it not been for wellness efforts. That said, the company’s wellness screening highlights showed progress: 91 percent of employees were tobacco-free compared to 85 percent in 2015. This and other highlights help employees see that the overall culture of the company is a healthy one and inspires workers to continue a positive trend, she said.

“Employees who are happy and feel good have more motivation and are more productive. When your employees feel that their employer truly cares for them, that is going to drive a culture where employees want to stay as well as a culture that potential hires want to be part of,” she said.

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