Don’t get sick on your business

News Lucas Deal June 18, 2014

Dealing with employee health is a major aspect of running a business. Everybody gets sick, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating to see productivity wane due to health-related employee absences.

But in spite of that age-old problem, many businesses remain reactive to employee health and wellness.

By shifting your focus to proactive health and wellness programs, you can create a work environment that helps minimize sick days, medical leave and the productivity losses they create.

Here are five benefits to adding health and wellness programs in your business.

Lower insurance costs

Healthy employees can have a two-fold benefit on business costs. One advantage many business owners are searching for today in the wake of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is healthcare. Healthy people cost less to insure.

“There’s a definite advantage for businesses to make sure their low-risk employees stay healthy and/or their high-risk employees become healthier,” says Brett Aprati, district manager at Interactive Health, an independently owned wellness company.

Signed into law in 2010, the ACA requires all business with 50 or more full-time equivalent (FTE) employees to offer health insurance. Businesses with less than 50 FTE employees are not required to provide insurance, but must allow uninsured employees to purchase insurance from govern- ment exchange programs.

The ACA also has lowered the maximum range for premiums and eliminated the option for insurance providers to withhold coverage to customers with pre-existing conditions.

The changes have caused rates to rise.

Businesses are now starting to fight back, says Steve Gregory, vice president of health and wellness at Shepherd Insurance. As a major insurer in the heavy-duty dealer market, Shepherd has seen a large number of its customers turn to wellness programs to combat growing premiums, Gregory says.

“There’s so much motivation to do this,” he says.

And Aprati says the ACA hasn’t just motivated businesses. Employees are also seeing how their well-being impacts their rates. “For better or worse, [ACA] is making a lot of people more informed about how they handle their health and shop for healthcare,” he says.

Better employee attendance

The second financial benefit of workplace health programs comes from a reduction in health-related absences. Improving the overall health of your team reduces sick days, medical leave, workplace injuries and compensation claims, says Gregory.

“Health plans in America today are really more like sick plans,” he says. “Most of us don’t use them until we are sick … Getting people to be proactive about their health before something [bad] happens can actually help prevent the high-dollar claim.”

But motivating employees isn’t easy, Gregory says.

He says employers who want to help employees get healthy have to offer them assistance in areas they can use. He advises clients to first create wellness committees to identify high-risk areas before implementing a wellness plan. For example if a business has many over- weight employees, that can be an area of focus, he says.

That is just one of the focus areas for the Healthy Trucking Association of America (HTAA), says Executive Direc- tor Bill Gordon.

“It is our goal to look at issues in the trucking population and do what we can to help [people] deal with them,” he says. “There are probably 20 different conditions we are currently working on.”

A recent Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) study estimates the implementation of injury and illness prevention programs will reduce injuries by 15 percent to 35 percent for employers who do not now have safety and health programs.

Extrapolated nationwide, OSHA says “at the 15 percent program effectiveness level, this saves $9 billion per year in workers’ compensation costs; at the 35 percent effectiveness level the savings are $23 billion per year.”

Improved morale/ performance

It’s no secret feeling healthy also boosts self-esteem and morale, says Gregory.

“Once someone starts feeling better [physically], that can rub off on other areas of their life,” he says.

Health and wellness programs inject positivity into businesses on a much larger scale. Rather than a single employee feeling good, entire teams can come to work rip-roaring and ready to go. That physical boost can result in increased productivity and an improved work atmosphere.

For businesses that choose to add wellness programs to curtail healthcare costs, Gregory likes to promote those benefits as additional features.

“Wellness programs can really help get people engaged,” he says. “Sometimes businesses don’t really think about that when they start them, but then people start feeling better, doing better on the job and you really get to see all of the benefits of the program.”

OSHA adds that studies show a direct correlation exists between a company’s performance in safety and its subsequent performance in productivity and financial results.

According to a 2009 study produced for OSHA, 43 percent of businesses with health and wellness programs identified “increased productivity” as the top benefit of their program, while six percent named “better employee morale and greater job satisfaction” as their top benefit.

“It helps to just feel better,” says Aprati.

“It is good business to make health and wellness a priority,” says Gordon, adding when employees start missing time due to poor health. “That impacts your ability to move product and do your job.”

“You saved my life”

For people unaware of their health status, wellness programs can literally be life-savers.

“We’ve received several phone calls from people we’ve tested who will say ‘You saved my life,’” Aprati says. “There are a lot of people who are sick and don’t know it yet.”

Aprati says 3 percent of Interactive Health’s risk assessment screenings reveal previously undiagnosed critical or life- threatening issues. In each case, Interactive Health immediately contacts the person, informs them of their condition and offers advice for additional treatment.

“We make sure they know exactly what they need to do,” he says.

While it may sound a little Hollywood, Gregory says the last-second health discovery is more common than you’d guess.

“If you have a significant number of employees and you commit to doing a wellness program … at some point it’s going to happen,” he says. “Someday someone will raise their hand and say ‘You saved my life. I found out I had cancer and I was able to get treatment’ thanks to this [program].”

And Aprati says moments like that aren’t just emotional for the employee. “I think when you hear about a life-saving event it makes everything worth it regardless of what your program costs,” he says. “It really shows the true value of a wellness program.”

Employee retention/ recruitment

Wellness programs also are great retention and recruitment tools, says Gordon. Employees appreciate working for a business with their best interests at heart.

While Gordon notes this is true for all industry jobs, it is especially important in areas where employee talent is in short supply.

“There is a severe driver shortage right now,” he says. “There is a lot of competition to find good drivers and once you have them to keep them. I think fleets have realized it’s beneficial to offer programs that will help these drivers stay healthy and keep their jobs.

“And that makes sense for all businesses.”

For company’s to get maximum benefit from a wellness program, Gregory says a business must completely commit to the program. Offering blood tests and health risk assessments one day a year is great, but if nothing else is done, employees will fall back into the status quo after a few weeks.

Creating motivation for wellness is best for both sides.

Gregory says incentives (insurance contributions, weight-loss contests, etc.) keep employees engaged in wellness year round and create a healthier workforce with lower insurance premiums and ac- cident risk.

Like weight loss, return on investment doesn’t happen immediately. But Gregory says over time financial benefits can become apparent.

“I think wellness programs add big value,” Aprati says, adding Interactive Health recommends its clients promote its wellness programs as part of benefit packages. “It’s an enticing program to offer.”

Adds Gregory, “It’s a perk. ‘If you work here you also get access to this.’ “And from a retention standpoint, if you’re trying to hold down costs and compete with the guy down the street it allows you to create a cost structure that’s more competitive.”