Wellness programs for a healthier bottom line

Originally Posted on the Chicago Tribune, January 11, 2013

If your New Year’s resolution is to hit the gym and improve your fitness in 2013, you may get a little help from an unlikely source: your employer.

According to the latest annual study from Aon Hewitt, a global human resources firm, employers continue to ramp up so-called health and wellness initiatives for their workers as part of a strategy to reduce health care costs.

In 2012, annual health care premiums increased by an average of 4 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit group that studies health care trends. While that is below the historical norm, it’s still well above the rate of inflation, which is about 2 percent.

To keep costs in check, employers increasingly plan to focus on promoting healthy habits among workers. The Aon study found that mitigating three of eight high-risk factors — smoking, lack of health screening, inactivity, poor stress management, insufficient sleep, poor standard of care, excessive alcohol consumption and poor diet — can save as much as $700 per employee.

Health care costs are not the only consideration, either.

“A healthier workforce tends to be a more highly performing workforce,” said Stephanie Pronk, who leads the health transformation team at Aon.

Looking to get a bit healthier in the new year? Here are a few ways you may get help on the job.

Changes in how you work day to day. For a while, many employers have offered financialincentives for taking steps toward better health. You may, for example, earn a bonus of $100 for completing a health-risk questionnaire or snag lower annual health insurance premiums for losing weight.

But now, in addition to those benefits, employers may begin helping incorporate healthy habits into your everyday routine. You may, for example, see sit-to-stand workstations in the office, which give you a choice between sitting at your desk and standing. You won’t become physically fit by standing more during the day, but spending less time in your chair could improve your overall health, Pronk says.

Another benefit: It doesn’t take time out of the workday.

“Employers acknowledge that we don’t have a lot of time to take on more stuff,” Pronk said.

Team support. You may hear more from your employer about the benefits of good nutrition, physical activity, proper disease management and so on.

According to the Aon study, more employers now have communication campaigns about wellness programs throughout the year, not just during open enrollment periods when you elect your annual benefits package. And during the next three to five years, 49 percent of companies plan to use social networks to encourage people to share health goals and find a community of support.

Continue reading…

Interested in learning more about incentive based wellness programs? Check out LifeVest Health, where you can get paid to get healthy.

Click here to learn more

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