Special to NIBJ
Employee wellness benefits more than the individual
COEUR d’ALENE — Being healthy is important. Most of us try to eat right and exercise for our own good and for our family. A few years ago Kootenai Health asked the question, how does having healthy employees affect a business? Now thanks to Kootenai’s self-developed MyHealth program, we know exactly what having healthy employees means to an organization.
“Having healthier employees is very important,” said Josh Burton, RN, employee health supervisor and senior health coach. “Those employees that are healthier overall are more productive.”
Many studies show that employees who are struggling with their health or finances are much less productive at work. While they are physically at work, these employees are mentally unable to focus and their mind may wander on to other personal issues. This idea is called presenteeism. Employees who are generally more active, eat better and are less stressed have lower rates of presenteeism. These employees are able to focus on their job and are measurably more productive while on the clock.
A 2010 analysis by the National Institute of Health studied more than 10,000 employees in multiple professions and worksites across the U.S. By doing so, researchers were able to quantify the direct (medical expenditures) and indirect (productivity) cost burden of overweight and obese employees. Researchers found that obese employees had 20 percent more doctor visits than merely overweight employees or those with a healthy weight. Both overweight and obese employees had a 12 percent higher rate of presenteeism.
“Unhealthy employees are more likely to think about other things at work, which means that the employer is paying them to sit at their desk and not work during that time,” Burton said. “The study found that obese employees can actually cost an organization five times more in these indirect costs than an average, healthy-weight employee.”
The MyHealth program is not about making employees feel badly about themselves, or alienating those who may be overweight. It’s about making sure everyone who wants to improve their health has every opportunity to do so. To help promote employee wellness and offset unwanted health-care costs, Kootenai Health decided to be proactive and create incentivized programs to get employees moving.
“We now have several initiatives in place to help our employees achieve their goals, whether it’s fitness or otherwise,” Burton said. “It’s easy for employers to host a summer walking series with a raffle prize or lottery tickets. It doesn’t cost a lot to motivate employees.”
Kootenai’s MyHealth programs help employees reach weight loss and fitness goals and promote physical activity and healthy eating. Employees are often reimbursed for their efforts to make healthier choices. Programs like Weight Watchers at the Workplace and the LiveWell program help hold employees accountable and allow them to gain support from coworkers at weekly meetings. Both programs help employees look at what they’re eating and alter it to fit a healthier lifestyle by cutting carbohydrates, reducing calories and including more protein and fresh vegetables in their diets.
“It’s a challenge, but it helps knowing that my coworkers, family and employer are supporting my efforts,” said Julie Hoerner, emergency director and LiveWell participant. “Knowing that my employer is paying for the program is motivating.”
Beginning in 2012, Kootenai Health also joined forces with PEAK Fitness to offer employees discounted memberships. With this, Kootenai decided to offer reimbursements for employees who competed in PEAK’s “Biggest Loser” challenge. For Rose Mulcahy, Nurse Case Manager, it was just the motivation she needed to begin an exercise regimen.
“When Kootenai decided to offer discounted rates at PEAK, I joined the gym and got a personal trainer,” Mulcahy said. “Between that and the Biggest Loser challenge, I developed an exercise habit which will help me to stay healthy for the rest of my life.”
Another benefit to keeping employees active is giving them an outlet to relieve stress and boost their mood. During the summer, MyHealth sponsors a walking series and step challenges to encourage employees to get outside during the work day. Employees are also given the opportunity to attend free yoga classes.
MyHealth also works with employees to relieve stress through financial counseling. MyFinances is an ongoing series of financial seminars that are free to employees and their spouses.
“Finances are something we all want to ignore but we all worry and stress over,” Burton said. “If we can help alleviate even a small amount of stress, we’ll have a more engaged employee.”
Many local employers, especially those who are self-insured, are beginning to reward employees that are non-smokers by lowering their insurance costs. Kootenai decided to take it one step further by also reimbursing employees for smoking cessation products and services.
“Smokers, like obese people, tend to have longer hospital stays and more frequent health problems,” Burton said. “Those direct health-care costs can really take away from an employer’s bottom line. Those excess medical funds could be used more proactively to improve health rather than trying to recover it after the fact.”
MyHealth is growing and expanding its services for employees. In the next year personal health coaches will be added to help individuals manage and track their progress.
Also in the works is an option during benefit enrollment where employees can have blood work done so they can see and understand their blood pressure and cholesterol readings. “Know Your Numbers” is geared toward helping employees stay informed about their current health information.
“So many of us don’t know our basic health information,” Burton said. “This wellness profile will inform employees of where they stand health-wise. Our goal is to have happier, healthier employees.”
Many of these ideas can be implemented or modified to fit your workplace. Hosting a Weight Watchers program at work or having a summer walking series are easy and affordable ways to promote health and wellness to your employees. If you’re interested in learning more about ways you can incorporate employee wellness into your business or organization feel free to contact Josh Burton at (208) 666-3053.
Filed Under: Featured
About the Author: