Employee Wellness Programs Flourish in Northeast Ohio

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With the start of a new year often comes many health related resolutions and a chance for employees and employers alike to take a fresh look at their wellness both in and out of the workplace. Perhaps most common among these resolutions are those related to weight-loss and exercise, particularly in a workplace more and more focused on relatively sedentary “desk-jobs”. Conventional wisdom would suggest that when it comes to weight management, it is these employees that would struggle most to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. However, a recent article published in the Plain Dealer, reports that employers may actually need to be more concerned about the wellness of a very different group of employees.


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Five Steps to Prioritizing Your Health in 2013

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Tips provided by ERC Partner University Hospitals

1. Schedule time for exercise

And stick to it! Half the battle of getting fit is getting the motivation to do it. However, if it's scheduled in your phone or notebook like your other appointments, it's practically written in stone. You don't have to work out every day, but setting a reminder for at least three days a week will lead you on the road to a happier, healthier and fitter life.
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Re-thinking Healthy Resolutions

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At one time or another, many of us have set a New Year’s Resolution regarding exercise or weight loss. If you walk into a fitness center in January, there is usually an influx of people who have resolved to “get in better shape” or “lose some weight” in the New Year.

By the time March rolls around, however, many individuals’ resolutions have fallen by the wayside and census in fitness centers return to usual levels. The following are some tips to put some more resolve into your resolutions by re-thinking of them as goals.

1. Set realistic, specific, and measurable goals with a target date.

Examples: I’m going to lose 10 pounds by July 1 or I am going to exercise for at least 30 minutes three times per week.
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Healthy Employees: Staying "Heart Healthy"

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By Ron Todaro, RN, COHN-S

Cardiovascular diseases are conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and stroke. Some of these conditions, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, have no obvious symptoms, but some may have symptoms such as pain, confusion, swelling, or shortness of breath. It's important to know your risk factors for these cardiovascular conditions and what you can do to avoid a diagnosis or manage an existing condition.

Heart Disease Prevention: Managing Your Modifiable Risk Factors

Treatment of heart disease can be difficult. That’s why it's better to try to prevent these health conditions, particularly in people with known cardiovascular disease risks. But how do you prevent heart disease? How do you maintain good heart health?

It may seem simple, but for the most part, lifestyle plays a huge role in keeping the heart healthy and reducing cardiovascular disease risks. Many of these suggestions are probably familiar to most people. They include:

  • Managing your stress levels
  • Eating fruits, vegetables, and foods low in fat and cholesterol — maintaining a mostly plant-based diet
  • Becoming active (at least 30 minutes per day) and either maintaining your current weight or losing weight if you are overweight.
  • Monitoring your blood pressure. If it’s high, get it under control following your doctor’s guidelines.
  • Screening your cholesterol and blood sugar levels. If your numbers have increased, you may be able to reverse the trend.
  • Following treatment guidelines if you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes

Eat right, exercise, don’t smoke, and talk to your doctor about any health concerns you have or any symptoms you notice. The earlier heart problems are detected, the better the chance you can begin treatment before any long-term damage has occurred.

Healthy Living Ideas: Stress

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Stress. The word is used so much these days. Is it real? Can it hurt you? What is it? What can be done about it?

Stress can cause us significant problems. Stress releases powerful neurochemicals and hormones that prepare us for action (to fight or flee). If we don’t take action, the stress response can lead to health problems.

One way stress is thought to affect the body is by causing digestive dysfunction which can affect Vitamin B production and absorption. Since B Vitamins are required to produce dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine, and other brain chemicals, it is important to take a good multi-vitamin, an EFA supplement, and possibly a mineral as well.

Oddly, stress seems too often be caused by a lack of epinephrine, also called adrenaline. This is a hormone released by the body into the bloodstream in response to physical or mental stress. Some of the best stress supplements include tyrosine and GABA, necessary for the adequate production of epinephrine.

Minerals are known as calming supplements -- particularly calcium and magnesium. When selecting a multi-vitamin, it is important to choose one containing a good amount of minerals, or ensure that minerals are taken in another supplement. Many find that taking their calcium before bed relaxes them and it has been said that it is better absorbed during sleep.

Exercise stimulates production of another class of hormones which fights stress called endorphins. These are morphine-like chemicals which block pain and improve mood. It is important to exercise 3-4 times per week to produce adequate amounts.

Studies suggest the best-known single herb to combat both mental and physical stress is Ginseng Root. It has been shown to improve mental activity and it helps the body adjust to stress, as well as providing numerous other benefits (including improving immune system function). Other herbs helpful in combating

Adequate nutrition is very important when the body is under stress. A good way to combat stress is by taking a daily multi-vitamin. Also effective are herbal and mineral supplements and Omega 3/EFA’s. But it is as equally important that your customers understand the importance of following a smart diet plan and eating well (eating correctly portioned proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy oils). Exercise 3-4 times a week is another factor that will combat stress as exercising stimulates the production of endorphins. It is important to avoid hydrogenated oils (in margarine and many processed foods) and Trans fats (fried foods). Following this type of diet and avoiding too many starches and sugars provides excellent mental focus and balance.

Health Care & Wellness Practices Survey

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This report summarizes the results of ERC’s survey of 90 organizations in Northeast Ohio, conducted in December of 2010, on practices related to health care and wellness.

This survey was co-sponsored by the ERC Health Academy. The survey reports trends in:

  • Health insurance premiums
  • Increases to co-pays, deductibles, and employee contributions
  • Eligibility for health insurance
  • Health insurance cost-control
  • Wellness programs
  • Wellness program administration

 

Creating a Wellness Initiative: 5 Steps

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Wellness programs and initiatives are often on many employers’ agendas. With wellness’ increasing popularity in the workplace and ability to successfully contain health insurance costs, we’ve summarized five important steps to creating an effective wellness program or initiative.

1. Obtain Management Buy-In

One of the most important, but perhaps challenging elements of building an effective wellness program is obtaining management buy-in.  Generally, obtaining management buy-in can be accomplished by making a business case for implementing the program (i.e. has it been effective in other organizations, what research supports the use of such programs, what are the expected gains/losses and budget, etc) and by showing positive results of the program, particularly on the bottom line and in reducing high costs such as health insurance or absenteeism. Your organization may consider running a pilot and measuring the results. Here are a few common metrics you may consider using to evaluate a pilot program or actual wellness program’s effectiveness:

  • Key performance indicators or program objectives or goals (such as reduced risk factors)
  • Health care claims costs
  • Health insurance usage
  • Employee participation or usage
  • Number of days absent as a result of illness or health conditions
  • Employee engagement or satisfaction
  • Number of policy or workplace changes
  • Return on investment (ROI)

2. Target the Right Needs

Wellness programs should be aligned with the right needs of your workforce.  There are three ways you can determine employees’ wellness needs. Health risk assessments, which are commonly conducted by employers, usually provide an aggregate and summary report for employers to determine what their staff’s health needs are and what preventable health risks are evident. Another way you can determine the wellness needs of your employees is by using an anonymous survey that measures employees’ perceived need for certain types of wellness activities or health-related interventions, or via other feedback methods such as interviews or focus groups. A final way your organization can determine the wellness needs of your employees is from observation of work behaviors such as:

  • Do employees appear to have generally healthy lifestyles?
  • Do employees tend to eat nutritiously?
  • Do employees make time to exercise or engage in fitness activities?
  • Are employees frequently ill or absent due to health-related issues?
  • Do employees have chronic diseases or conditions?
  • Do employees tend to smoke?
  • Do employees understand how to be healthy or are they lacking knowledge and education on wellness?
  • Do employees have issues with stress management?

Data provided in these assessments, modes of feedback, and/or observation can yield information that helps your organization develop a wellness program that meets the health risk areas and needs of your workforce and select the appropriate activities that target those needs. Additionally, gathering data related to the barriers to becoming healthier that employees perceive can be helpful as well in designing programs or initiative.

3. Choose Impactful Activities

Once your organization has determined the needs of its workforce, the next step is to choose activities aligned with those needs – as well as your budget for the program. It’s important to note that the issue(s) you select to target should be capable of being changed. Typically employers choose to focus on these areas, and implement both education and formal activities to help address needs:

  • Nutrition
  • Fitness/physical activity
  • Stress management
  • Disease management or prevention
  • Smoking cessation

Activities in these areas can be low-cost, medium-cost, or high-cost. Low-cost activities typically tend to be more “cultural” in nature, in that the organization makes accommodations to its workplace or policies to better enable healthy behaviors – such as allowing flexible schedules, posting motivational or health oriented tips in the office, allowing for breaks to pursue physical activity, offering healthy food alternatives, or implementing in-house staff-run activities (versus those involving an outside consultant, trainer, or vendor) such as walking or running programs. Activities with moderate costs may include providing educational seminars, coordinating activity clubs, providing subsidized discounts on fitness club memberships or classes, or using community facilities. Higher cost activities tend to provide maximal access opportunities and are higher-impact, such as offering massages, having an on-site fitness center or fitness classes, offering health screenings and vaccinations, providing opportunities for coaching with a wellness expert, and offering incentives.

If your organization does not have the internal staff expertise required to implement a wellness program, it will likely need quality vendors. When selecting vendors, consider the product or service quality and delivery, professionals’ training/education/experience, and the product or service value for the cost incurred.

4. Generate Employee Motivation and Participation

Another crucial component of an effective wellness program is significant employee participation. After all, employees need to actually use the program in order to generate results. If health and wellness aren’t necessarily core aspects of your culture, solid participation and employee motivation may be difficult to attain. Nonetheless, many organizations provide incentives that are attractive to employees and make participation seem worthwhile. Such incentives most commonly include discounts on health insurance premiums as well as cash and gift cards. Time off to pursue wellness opportunities is also a valuable incentive.

Other ways to increase participation is to keep in mind the common barriers that prevent employees from participating in wellness programs such as time, access, cost, and complexity. Offering programs before or after work may lead to less participation than programs occurring during work time or the lunch hour. Similarly, free and simple programs are best. While some more expensive programs may require cost-sharing between an employee and the organization and can facilitate greater commitment to the initiative, it’s important for this to not be too costly that it would be a significant barrier to participation. Access is another potential obstacle to participation; however, programs offered on-site and at convenient times and locations can help reduce access issues.

5. Stay Compliant

Compliance is an on-going hurdle employers face when creating and implementing wellness programs. Wellness programs need to be compliant with laws including ADA, HIPPA, GINA, and Title VII. In addition, there are limits placed on financial awards offered to employees who meet health-related goals. The health care reform bill has impact on wellness plan design, as well.

While legal and policy issues are outside the scope of this article, additional information on these topics can be obtained through ERC’s HR Help Desk (more information below).

Additional Resources

HR Help Desk (Members only)
For additional information related to any of the following content provided in this article or pertaining to creating and implementing wellness programs, please contact hrhelp@yourerc.com.

Preferred Partners (Members only)
ERC has many Preferred Partners and vendors that facilitate different aspects of wellness programs, such as executive physicals, employee assistance programs, health and safety training, and health screening. To view a list of Preferred Partners and the services and cost-savings they offer to ERC members, click here.

ERC Health
For more information about ERC’s health insurance program for small and mid-sized businesses, please click here.