How Healthcare Reform Will Affect Your Wellness Program

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Healthcare reform is bringing several changes to how employers administer healthcare benefits as well as their wellness programs in 2013. Here are a couple key items you need to know about how healthcare reform affects your wellness program.

Larger wellness incentives

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) creates new incentives for employers to build wellness programs in their workplace and encourage healthier habits.

The Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, and the Treasury Department released proposed rules for employer-based wellness program incentives, which apply to plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2014.
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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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The Top 3 Benefits Trends You Need to Know

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Three types of benefits have seen the most significant changes in 2012 trends, based on our research nationally, locally, and among employers of choice. Find out what they are and how these trends impact your organization as it plans and budgets for 2013.

Health Insurance & Wellness

Survey data released by Towers Watson and Aon Hewitt show that the widespread majority of employers plan to offer health care benefits to their employees in the future. Most employers, according to their surveys, do not foresee eliminating health plans, even in light of health care reform.
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Why Your Business Can't Afford to Ignore Wellness

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If your organization thinks workplace wellness is just a passing trend, think again. Investments in workplace wellness programs are paying huge dividends for employers. Plus, many organizations are finding that workplace wellness programs are a strategic priority when it comes to saving money, engaging employees, and creating a more productive workforce. Here are a few reasons why your organization can't afford to ignore workplace wellness.

Wellness programs reduce costs.

It's the most obvious benefit: wellness programs save your organization money on health insurance and reduce a number of other associated costs including use of sick time, workers' compensation, disability management, and absenteeism. Health benefits are arguably the second largest employee expense for organizations and one of the most volatile costs from year to year. Wellness programs are one of the best tools available to reduce health care costs over the long-term.

Smaller businesses are more affected by poor health.

Smaller organizations are more affected by poor employee health than larger organizations. They are less able to absorb additional health care costs, and extended absence or frequent use of sick days can significantly affect their business operations. Additionally, decreases in productivity or engagement (even by just one or a few employees) because of poor well-being can also affect smaller businesses more than larger organizations.

The demands of the workplace are increasing.

More and more is being demanded of employees. Longer hours, expanded work weeks, and higher standards mean that employees face increased stress and worse well-being at work. These risks can lead to poor physical and mental health, which in turn affect costs. Wellness programs can enhance employees' ability to function and perform well in spite of these demands and also help employees cope with the stresses of work.

Healthy employees are more engaged.

Beyond reduced costs, healthy employees tend to be more engaged. Studies find that employees who are engaged and interested in their work are more likely to report better overall well-being and healthier outcomes, such as improvements in cholesterol and blood pressure and lower stress, than their less engaged counterparts. They are also less likely to be absent from work, and more likely to be productive, energetic, and have higher performance.

Employees want to work for organizations that care about their well-being.

It's not uncommon for employees to cite that their organization's investment in their health and care for their well-being are key reasons that they stay at their employers. Employees want to work for organizations, leaders, and managers that care about their well-being and who provide appropriate levels of support and flexibility to lead healthy, balanced lives. ERC's employee engagement research has found significant relationships between whether employees believe that their organization cares about their well-being and their perceptions of leaders, supervisors, and the overall workplace.

Wellness programs are becoming a standard benefit.

With their increasingly popularity, wellness programs are becoming a standard part of an employer's benefits package. According to our surveys, the majority of local employers offer some wellness benefit to their employees, such as health screenings, wellness coaching, access to trainers and/or dieticians, on-site clinics, healthy food options, fitness/weight management programs, or health education seminars. Also, wellness perks can be an attractive benefit to prospective employees, and especially for candidates that care about being healthy. Several leading employers, such as our NorthCoast 99 winners (www.northcoast99.org), promote their wellness initiatives to attract talent.

Wellness programs change lives.

Beyond the cost and productivity benefits of wellness programs, one of the greatest gifts you can offer your employees is a better quality of life. There are countless success stories resulting from corporate wellness programs inclusive of employees that have overcome a chronic condition, lost significant amounts of weight, and reduced serious health risk factors. These programs aren't just saving money for businesses - they're improving lives. Wellness initiatives inspire and motivate employees to change their behavior and provide them the tools to better themselves.

The business case for wellness should be clear: lower costs, higher engagement, productive employees, and a healthier business. With these diverse positive benefits and the current volatile climate of health care, your organization truly can't afford to not invest in employees' wellness.

ERC Awarded 2012 Wellness@Work Award

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ERC is very proud to announce that we received a 2012 Wellness@Work Award. This is the third consecutive year that ERC has won an award; winning 2nd place in the Small Business Division. The Wellness@Work Awards honor area businesses for their workplace wellness initiatives.

“We’re honored to receive a Wellness@Work Award for the third consecutive year,” said Pat Perry, President of ERC. “It is important to us to lead by example, as we sponsor the ERC Health program throughout the State of Ohio. Wellness has truly become a part of our culture here. We see it through participation in events like staff health days, cardiovascular screening sessions and afternoon workout classes. We are proud of the commitment we’ve made to improve our employees’ health and work-life balance.”

ERC would also like to congratulate our members who also won the 2012 award: Lake Health, Oswald Companies, ShurTech Brands LLC and Vita-Mix Corporation.

Workplace Flu Shots & Other Wellness Options Gain Ground

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As flu season approaches, an analysis conducted by ERC shows that the percentage of employers offering workplace flu shots and other wellness options has increased significantly since 2007.

According to the 2011 NorthCoast 99 Winners Report, 19% more NorthCoast 99 winners offered free flu shots to keep their workforce healthier during flu season when compared to 2007. Additionally, since 2007, more winners are encouraging fitness by providing subsidies for fitness club memberships; making exercising more convenient by providing on-site fitness classes; and providing annual health fairs. This data seems to suggest that more local employers, and especially employers of choice, are increasing their wellness initiatives.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen more employers expand their health and wellness initiatives in order to improve their employees’ health and well-being. Flu shots and annual health fairs tend to be some of the most common options employers offer. Wellness initiatives can reduce absenteeism, decrease health insurance usage and claims, and create a healthier workplace – all of which are results that many employers are seeking nowadays.

For more information or to purchase the current NorthCoast 99 Winners Report, please click here

Top 10 Corporate Wellness Program Mistakes

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If you’re grappling with low participation and minimal results in your organization’s wellness program or aren’t sure how to make your initiative more successful, you may be making some critical oversights. Here are the top 10 corporate wellness program mistakes.

1. No budget

Many organizations plan to create a wellness program without allocating the resources they need, especially a budget. A wellness initiative can be a major undertaking and adequate funding, staffing, and resources are all critical to a successful program. It’s unlikely that you will be able to see any meaningful results without investing any money or resources into a wellness initiative.

2. Limited interest

Many wellness programs fail because employees have limited interest in the activities or wellness in general. Thus, it’s important to identify the activities in which employees have interest to determine those that may generate better participation, as well as find creative ways to generate interest in wellness (incentives, social activities, contests, etc.). Without participation, you likely won’t achieve any significant behavior change.

3. Assuming that one-size-fits-all

No two employees have the same body, strength, or motivation and likewise not all employees need the same type of help with wellness. Some may need assistance with nutrition and others with fitness. Even within these buckets, employees will vary in terms of their level of fitness/wellness (i.e. beginner, intermediate, advanced). Offer a variety of options and resources so that you can meet the needs of your employees’ many interests, needs, and levels of health.

4. Offering just a few wellness activities

A wellness program is more than just offering an on-site fitness class, annual fair, flu shots, and an occasional seminar. These are wellness activities rather than a comprehensive wellness program. While activities are critical to a wellness initiative, activities alone will rarely create the behavior and lifestyle changes that you are probably seeking. The activities you choose should be connected to the behaviors you want to change in your workforce and the needs of your employees.

5. No connection to your benefits strategy

Wellness programs with no strategy or goals lack direction. Too often, they may not be linked or connected to benefits plans or business strategies, or may be perceived as an extraneous benefit by employees. It’s important to consider the reasons why you are creating the wellness program in the first place and the purpose it serves your business in order to measure whether or not you are meeting its goals. It’s equally as important to make sure that employees see the connection between the wellness program and these strategies.

6. Limited support from senior management

We don’t just mean support for the program’s budget. Senior management needs to buy into your wellness program and participate regularly. They must to be visibly “walking the talk” when it comes to wellness, and most of all, they need to care about employee well-being and recognize how it affects the business. It tends to undermine the success of the program when employees don’t see that their leaders care about wellness.

7. Failing to target high-risk employees

While it’s important to try to engage all of your employees in your company’s wellness efforts, be especially concerned with those that are high-risk. Every organization has some employees who are driving their claims more than average employees. Without engaging these employees to participate, you may not see the results you want. Be prepared to provide targeted resources and support to these employees to help them make critical lifestyle changes.

8. Not changing the little things

By “little things,” we mean the nuances of your culture. If you want employees to take wellness seriously, you’ll need to impact the “little things” in your organization that impede your efforts to create a healthy place to work. These could include replacing soda vending machines with healthy drink options; changing food choices at meetings and staff functions; allowing flexible schedules to work out; and getting rid of traditional morning donuts. If wellness is truly a priority, you have to exemplify that throughout your entire workplace.

9. Lack of change and reinforcement

Over time, employees’ enthusiasm for your wellness program will fluctuate if you don’t keep the program fresh. If new activities and components are not constantly being integrated into the program to maintain employees’ interest, it may be difficult to motivate continued participation. Similar to other workplace initiatives, continue to change and adapt the program over time.

10. Doing it alone

Many organizations try to launch a wellness program with just their own internal staff and the assistance of their health insurance carrier and neglect to use outside experts and vendors. The reality is that designing a wellness program usually requires expertise and experience beyond the traditional HR function. As a result, it’s good practice to select outside resources and support that can help a wellness program succeed. There are many vendors which not only offer assistance with program design, but also provide a variety of tools, services, and products to support and complement your program. 

Corporate wellness programs can be incredibly beneficial to workplaces, driving down health insurance costs, engaging your workforce, and ultimately creating healthier employees. Keep in mind, however, that just a few mistakes can potentially prevent a wellness program from generating the results you want and need for your business.

Additional Resources

For more information about health and wellness from ERC Health, click here.

Healthy Living Ideas: Having Trouble Sleeping?

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The importance of sleep is underscored by the symptoms experienced by those suffering from sleep problems. People suffering from sleep disorders do not get adequate or restorative sleep, and sleep deprivation is associated with a number of both physical and emotional disturbances.

Below are suggested herbal sleep aids supplements to help get a good night's sleep.

1. Chamomile: Chamomile is one of nature's oldest and gentlest herbal sleep aids. It is most often drunk as a tea, which has a mild and pleasant taste. In addition to promoting calm and restfulness, chamomile is also used in cases of stomach irritation.

2. Valerian: Valerian is a root that has long been used as an herbal sleep aid. It has a characteristic smell – just like old socks. Valerian can be used to help occasional sleeplessness, but is also particularly helpful taken long-term.

3. Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone that the body produces at night. It is sometimes called the "sleep hormone" because it is so important to healthy sleep. People who are blind, who suffer from jet lag, or who live in places with extended sunlight hours may have trouble sleeping because their bodies do not produce enough melatonin.

4. SAMe: SAMe (S-adenosyl-methionine) is an amino acid derivative, and is found normally in the body. It is typically used as an antidepressant, but is also commonly used to treat chronic fatigue syndrome or as an herbal sleep aid. Its actions in the body help to promote healthy sleep cycles, especially when taken daily for several weeks.

5. Tryptophan: Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a precursor to seratonin. Low serotonin levels can cause irritability, anxiety, and sleeplessness, so adding more tryptophan to your diet can help you relax and will promote healthier sleep patterns.