NASE News

Wellness Boosts Health and Bottom Line

Premiums for virtually all small group health plans are based on the health history, or “experience,” of the entire group. Major illnesses, such as a heart attack, or chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, can instantly spike up a plan’s rates. This can have particularly devastating consequences if you’re a micro-business owner.

“For small business owners who often measure profits in the thousands of dollars, the net effect of healthy employees could mean the difference between profit and loss,” says William S, Kizer, Jr., founder of The Wellness Councils of America. This non-profit membership organization is dedicated to promoting health initiatives at the workplace.

Soaring health care costs and the prevalence of avoidable threats to health (obesity, smoking, stress, etc.) have prompted businesses to get more involved with their workers’ well-being. For instance, of all worksites with 50 or more employees, approximately 95% of them sponsored at least one heath-promoting activity in 1999, according to the Association for Worksite Health Promotion. These ranged modest educational efforts, such as handing out pamphlets on weight management, to providing free flu shots or discounts to local gymnasiums or smoking-cessation classes.

Ways to Incorporate Wellness in Your Workplace

  • Encourage physical activity. If possible, sponsor daily walk breaks.
  • Post Body Mass Index. Post BMI charts at the workplace or provide an online link through email. Click Here for U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Calculator.
  • Make plenty of drinking water available. It’s important that your workers stay hydrated. Water is the best alternative to soft drinks and/or coffee.
  • Post proper hand-washing techniques. You and your workers carry millions of germs on your hands. Most are harmless, but some cause illnesses, such as colds, flu, and diarrhea. These germs are found on doorknobs, stair railings, telephones, desks, and money when touched by folks who aren’t good hand-washers.
  • Sponsor a safety audit. Have an industrial hygienist or ergonomics expert review your workplace to identify potential threats to workplace health and safety.
  • Communicate regularly with workers on health and wellness. Use meetings, posters, e-mail, or payroll inserts to get your messages across.
  • Sponsor “lunch-and-learns.” Invite workers to bring their own lunch and provide them with one or more speakers on a relevant health and wellness topics.
  • Provide an incentive. Whether it’s a $20 gift certificate for completing a health risk assessment or a Friday afternoon off for graduating from a smoking-cessation program, incentives are an effective way to reinforce and reward participation in health promotion activities and programs.

     

 

As a micro-business owner, it’s crucial that you begin exploring ways to implement health and wellness strategies for your employees. Wellness programs not only help reduce medical and disability costs, they can reduce absenteeism and promote a general sense of well-being. Although this may seem like a daunting task, invaluable information is already right in front of you, five days a week. Your employees are your best resource when designing an effective program. If you don’t know what health issues your workers most care about, then you can’t put a relevant program in place. Don’t hesitate to ask them which health and wellness topics are most interesting to them, either through a survey or during an informal open forum. This information-gathering can serve as a springboard for you to introduce the wellness concept to the group.

You should also take full advantage of your health plan’s wellness component. (If your plan doesn’t offer one, consider finding another one that does.) Many plans offer at least a Web site stocked with credible health and wellness information. They may also offer online health risk assessments or annual worksite health-screenings to check for warning signs like high-cholesterol and high-blood pressure. Even if your plan doesn’t offer a comprehensive program, or it wants to impose a hefty charge for those screenings, don’t give up just yet. Investigate whether one of your local hospitals or community health organizations will administer the screenings for a small fee. Another good alternative is to network with other small businesses and pool resources to sponsor a health fair where workers can participate in health and wellness workshops and preventive screenings.

As a micro-business owner, it’s crucial that you begin exploring ways to implement health and wellness strategies for your employees. Wellness programs not only help reduce medical and disability costs, they can reduce absenteeism and promote a general sense of well-being. Although it may seem like a daunting task, invaluable information is already right in front of you, five days a week. Your employees are your best resource when designing an effective program. If you don’t know what health issues your workers most care about, then you can’t put a relevant program in place. Don’t hesitate to ask them which health and wellness topics are most interesting to them, either through a survey or during an informal open forum. This information-gathering can serve as a springboard for you to introduce the concept of wellness to the group. 

 

Help Increase Health Literacy

It’s not enough to just hand your workers educational pamphlets or line up monthly speakers. In order for you and your employers to get the most out of these promotions, you have to understand the information being communicated. While a great deal of health and wellness information is available today, not all of it is communicated in clear language that employees can understand. This problem is compounded when you consider that over 90 million American adults are functionally illiterate. According to the United States National Institute for Literacy, out of 191 million American adults, as many as 44 million cannot read a newspaper or fill out a job application. Another 50 million more cannot read or comprehend above the eighth grade level. Researcher and readability consultant Mark Hochhauser says the average adult will have difficulty understanding health information, including information found on the Internet, because it is often written at very high reading levels (10th grade and higher).

What can you do to help? Don’t just order health and wellness information for your employees without first reading it to see if it makes sense. Also, try and find materials that will take into account individual learning styles. Some workers will find visual aids like posters or videos easier to comprehend, while some will prefer written material they can take home and re-read. Provide workers with a glossary of common health care terms or direct them to reliable Internet sites, such as WebMD, that present health information in an easy-to-understand manner. Lastly, don’t just communicate the importance of flu shots, preventive screenings, or weight management classes to your workers. Tell them where they can go in your community to obtain them.