In a nationwide survey, 86% of employers communicated their intentions to focus on more employee wellness and health promotion programs over the next three years. At the Harvard School of Public Health, for instance, their analysis showed that absenteeism costs fell by $2.73 for every dollar spent on employee wellness programs.
Most employers focus on the basics like quit-smoking, weight loss, or lowered blood pressure programs. And according to the Harvard Pilgrim VP of Medical Management, the goal to reduce employee medical and pharmacy bills is only a mere 25% of a company’s total health costs.
Harvard Pilgrim is one innovative organization that offers activities with the goal of reducing worker stress in order to tackle the other piece of the pie when it comes to overall health costs. Some of these perks include meditation classes, sleep seminars, an organic gardening club, and much more.
“The other 75% are the costs from ailing workers’ absenteeism or subpar performance while at work, which is often linked to stress,” she said. “It’s the back pain, the fatigue, the headaches that are the cost drivers.”
Read the Boston Globe article
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HR is all about tapping the potential of every unique employee. It goes without saying – from health insurance to wellness initiatives that come standard in several organizations – that you and your employer care about the employee’s health, and his or her ability to perform in their roles.
An increasing number of employees are already being offered perks like wellness consultants, in-office health screenings, fitness programs, quit-smoking incentive programs, and more.
According to the corporate benefits group Workplace Options, 70% of Fortune 200 companies offer fitness programs in an active strategy in preventative healthcare and a morale booster for workers. Dr. James Levine from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota states that ¾ of U.S. adults get little to no physical activity daily, because of the sedentary nature of working in an office.
Some interesting ways in which companies are embracing creative ways to get employees moving:
- On-site yoga and health club reimbursements (Rally Software, Boulder, CO)
- Employee team sports like soccer during lunch breaks (Electronic Arts, Vista, CA)
- Flex-time policy encouraging them to go running, biking, and surfing in middle of the workday (Patagonia, Ventura, CA)
- Company gym and free workshops on physical and mental health (GlaxoSmithKline, nationwide)
- Corporate policy for three 5-min stretch breaks every day (L.L. Bean, nationwide)
Read the LA Times article
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Taking a step towards enriching your vacation benefits package to employees could go a ways with employee health and productivity in the long run.
It is common that employees have a hard time asking for time off for vacation. By having a more desirable vacation plan, you are communicating that the company wants employees to take vacation.
The original wellness program, vacation benefits allow employees the time they need during the year to relieve stress, so that when they return, they will suffer less from work burnout and anxiety.
“It’s counter-intuitive. You would just automatically think if my employees continue to work, I’m getting basically free labor because they’re not using their vacation,” says Fritz Wolchik, director of corporate sales at Rovia. “How could that be a bad thing? But the statistics are there. You lose productivity because people get burned out.”
According to WebMD, because Americans don’t use an average of four days of vacation time, employers gain $76 billion per year. However, worker burnout leads to a loss of $7 for every dollar they get.
Read the Employee Benefit News article
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In a workforce shifting to the paperless environment, where does your organization stand? According to the 2002 regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Labor:
Plan information can be distributed electronically to employees who have access to electronic information at work as part of their duties – and to those who have signed a consent form allowing their employer to supply their benefit documents electronically.
Now, the Department of Labor is rethinking their policy on electronic document accessibility for benefit information. In a notice in early April, the DOL published a notice welcoming feedback on whether national regulations regarding electronic disclosure should be updated.
Since there have been a number of significant technological advancements, there is the consideration that there should be different disclosure requirements to accommodate the widespread use of wireless and smart phones as well as other portable devices.
Read the HR Morning article
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On Monday, U.S. House Democrats introduced a piece of legislation that would enhance the Family and Medical Leave Act for employees. H.R. 1440 seeks to require companies with 25 or more employees to follow the 1993 law, whereas in the past, the rules only applied to companies with 50 or more.
Another big stride to help employees in the aftermath of the recession, it broadens the scope of what is considered appropriate leave reasons. At a time when multigenerational households grew in size due to financial difficulties, it comes as no surprise that we are entering a time of redefining family and medical leave.
In particular, the enhanced family/medical leave rules would include up to four hours a month and no more than 24 hours a year. It also would require employers to allow parents to:
- Attend educational and/or extracurricular activities attended by a son, daughter, or grandchild
- Take leave for routine family medical care needs for children and grandchildren
- Use medical leave related to assisting elderly relatives (including visits to group/nursing homes)
Read The Hill news story
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Some say that free food is a great way to bring people together, so it’s only natural that employers and HR institute a goodies jar in their office. However, there is a strong argument being made that free chocolate or candy in the workplace may alienate some employees, or derail their attempts at healthy eating and other measures of preventative health care.
For years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has pointed out that Americans struggle with diet and weight issues. For instance, on any given day, one in four men and nearly half of women are on a diet. And as a whole, Americans spend more than 40 billion dollars per year on dieting products and programs, because they all want to feel better about themselves.
Is It Counterproductive to Wellness Programs?
While it seemed like a positive idea at first, having an office candy jar could actually counter the message of employee wellness initiatives you manage at the organization. Think about it – your wellness program communicates that they should eat healthier and take preventative precautions (e.g., getting flu shots, regular physical checkups, stay educated).
In an article from The Wall Street Journal, experts discuss how office candy can dismantle an employee’s desire to live a healthier lifestyle, causing them to rely on food for stress relief or other emotional needs.
“The proximity and visibility of a food can consistently increase an adult’s consumption,” says the study, led by Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing and human behavior at Cornell University, and author of “Mindless Eating.” He adds, “Even for a person with the greatest resolve, every time they look at a candy dish they say, ‘Do I want that Hershey’s Kiss, or don’t I?’ At the 24th time, maybe I’m kind of hungry, and I just got this terrible email, and my boss is complaining—and gradually my resolve is worn down.”
Read the Wall Street Journal article
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The year of 2011 brings a lot of promise and possibility to the American workforce. According to the survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), researching and developing a new wellness program at their organization is a priority for HR this year.
In the last year, the toll of group health insurance spikes really impacted human resources professionals all over the U.S. Organizations have already started offloading a portion of the insurance costs to employees who participate. However, the value of effective disease management and prevention has become more important than ever. For example:
- Most Employees Say Their Health Choices Impact Their Productivity at Work. In another study by ComPsych, a reported 74% of surveyed employees reported that their well-being led to a significant lack of energy at work. Medically obese individuals could cost up to $13 billion, and smokers adding more than $1,600 a year for an employer.
- Success Story: We Energies (Milwaukee, WI) recently discovered the ROI of wellness programs, which not only helped reduce sick days used, but lead to an overall savings of $12.1 million for the company (an estimated $180 per person).
As you research your organization’s wellness program options, the most efficient approach would be to inquire with your current insurance provider regarding their wellness offerings. Whether you decide to use your provider or find a wellness vendor, another important element is creating a culture of wellness that extends beyond what the plan offers and encourages a higher commitment of the organizational environment to a work-life balance.
With more than 1,240 HR participants, the SHRM study showed wide agreement in a number of other areas as well:
- 85% expecting a stronger link between employee performance and company goals
- 80% will be researching and implementing employee wellness programs
- 75% will invest more in employee education and training benefits
- 67% say there will be more flextime in 2011
- 63% will be expanding the company by recruiting new talent
- 63% say that wages are going up
You can expect to read more in the next week about how to strategize these other high priority HR initiatives, including tips and ideas to get you started.
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