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Most favor employee wellness programs

More than 80 percent of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say employers should offer workplace wellness programs. Though just over half—51 percent—say there is an employee wellness program at their workplace.

The majority of respondents favor incentives to motivate workers to participate in wellness programs but oppose penalties such as high premiums if they opt out.

Roughly 70 percent of respondents said employees should be offered incentives to participate in a wellness program. Slightly fewer readers—68 percent—say companies shouldn’t require employees to pay higher premiums if they don’t participate in a wellness program.

Preventive health and wellness benefits increasingly are seen by employers as a key strategy to boost productivity, reduce absenteeism and curb health care benefits costs. A 2015 research report by the Society for Human Resource Management found 70 percent of companies now offer wellness programs, up from 58 percent seven years earlier.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, workplace wellness programs and policies are “designed to support healthy behaviors and improve health outcomes while at work.” These programs consist of activities such as health education and coaching, weight control programs, medical screenings, stress management and on-site fitness programs.

Fitness, weight control and nutrition education were the top vote-getters for activities in which respondents say they would participate in as part of an employee wellness program.

Views differ on the effectiveness of workplace wellness efforts. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found nearly three-quarters of companies think employee wellness programs are effective, but other researchers say the return on employers’ investment is not clear.

For the past decade, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, Rochester Region, and the Rochester Business Journal have presented the Wealth of Health Awards to recognize employers’ health initiatives. The deadline to nominate is March 18; go to wealthofhealthawards.com. The event is June 8.

Nearly 475 readers participated in this week’s poll, conducted Feb. 29 and March 1.

In your view, should employers offer workplace wellness programs?
Yes 81%
No 19%

Currently, is there an employee wellness program at your place of work?
Yes 51%
No  49%

Should employees be offered incentives to participate in a wellness program?
Yes  71%
No  29%

Should companies require employees to pay higher premiums if they do not participate in a wellness program?
No  68%
Yes  32%

COMMENTS:
Worker wellness programs are good for employer and the employee. What I don’t want is to see government involvement or mandated programs. Must remain optional!
—George Thomas, Ogden

Employers should recognize the investment they have in their employees. Mine does.
—Mark Williams

A happy, unstressed, healthy employee is much more productive, creative and collaborative and takes much better care of your customers. Also, wellness programs drive retention up and attrition down.
—Fred Dewey, owner, Alive! 9 to 5

Employers should determine the effectiveness of such initiatives on their workforce. They may also choose to employ and retain employees who benefit from such programs. In my case, I’d merely prefer seeing my employer eliminate the availability of free soda and junk food all day long. Last week our employees consumed more than 900 cans of soda that contained the equivalent of 85 pounds of raw sugar.
—Delina Madison, Henrietta

It’s great if people want to be in shape, quit smoking and the rest. It is their personal business, however. If employers seek to compete for the kind of employees who would respond to that benefit, let them offer it. But to say that employers “should” offer it smacks of another manifestation of the nanny state in the making. (And we have more than enough of the nanny state.)
—Jim Cronin

Being able to balance your work and home life is so important. Wellness programs offered at work—during work hours—is a great way to add positive and helpful benefits, which create healthier, happier employees.
—Mia Mueller, DiMarco Group

Research estimates that $170 billion per year is spent on smoking-related diseases and that another $150 billion to $200 billion is spent on obesity-related diseases. In addition obesity costs employers an estimated $4.3 billion annually in absenteeism and lost productivity. If employers want to get serious about cutting their health insurance costs they need to implement wellness programs and provide incentives for employees to participate.
—David Belcher, LeRoy

The Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed employer opinions on the most effective cost containment strategies. Wellness programs were ranked as effective by 71 percent of those surveyed. RBA, as an early adopter of these strategies, has guided its clients into robust, data-driven programs that produce the reduction of biological risk necessary to prove the cost benefit analysis of resources allocated to such a program.
—Barbara Cote, Relph Benefit Advisors

Meditation and chair yoga are easy to do and do not require special space or equipment.
—John Costello, First Niagara Risk Management

Employers of all sizes should offer employee wellness programs. The optimal way is for them to be done in conjunction with the company’s health insurance provider. If there isn’t one, a consultant can be brought in. Healthier employees are more productive employees and they have a better quality of life. Everyone needs to take responsibility for their own health and wellness. Failing to do this makes it a societal issue, and that’s irresponsible. The incentives for responsible people would be lower health insurance premiums and higher premiums for those not following the program.
—Dave Iadanza, Farmington

I have responded “off the top of my mind.” Factually, what is the outcome of Excellus experience been thus far? I say “no” to the premium increase where employees do not participate. Personally, I think the premium should be set according to the health of the individual up front!
—J.A. DePaolis, Penfield

I don’t believe the government should dictate what a company must offer an employee as compensation for their labor. This includes both benefits and pay. The free market should dictate what salary and benefits an employer should offer. If these are not in line with their competition, the company will find it difficult to attract and retain employees costing them more in the long run. If you are concerned about companies taking advantage of naive and unsuspecting people, let the government compile statistics on how companies compare to each other.
—Charlie Waldman

Would be challenging to understand the ROI, but a program does not have to come with a large cost. We often had speakers during lunch-and-learns come in and talk about various subjects that most found helpful. Many programs the employees ran themselves. If running these programs lowered premiums or other health care costs, that would help determine any ROI for both employer and employee.
—Keith Newcomer

Absolutely employers should offer these programs. It makes perfect economic sense that in the long run the company would probably save money. Diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular could be greatly reduced if the employees were given the right training and direction. Especially in their 20s and 30s. This seems like a no-brainer.
—Peter Bonenfant, Fairport

Yes, Wellness Programs should be offered in conjunction with the health care plans offered by the company. Incentives should be offered that compliment a healthy life such as gym memberships for a month, organizing a walking group, etc. In the long run it will save the company money.
—Eve Elzenga, Eve Elzenga Design

Every workplace program I’ve seen relies on employees’ honesty, saying they’ve done certain things, and everybody lies and cheats. It’s a waste of time and money.
—Joe Tascione, HVAC Inc.

3/4/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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