Wellness Programs Try to Be Welcoming, Too

AH, July: an ideal time of year for morning runs, long swims, family bike rides and picnic tables laden with seasonal produce. In short, it’s healthy time.

Unfortunately, it’s also health care time — when managers must contend with rising health insurance premiums as they plan next year’s budget.

What is a cost-conscious manager to do? The answer of the moment is to provide a wellness program, promoting healthy behavior year-round.

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“I was basically out of the business for the better part of the decade,” said Michael Carter, a vice president at Hay responsible for employee health management consulting. “Now everybody’s my new best friend.”

On the surface, it is hard to see anything wrong with urging employees to tone up and trim down. A fitter work force is a happier work force, and less costly, too.

But wellness programs can be minefields. Some employees may resent the programs, viewing them as examples of father-knows-best intrusiveness. At least one program has even formed the background for a lawsuit.

The biggest challenge of wellness programs is to reach the employees who would get the most out of them. Gym rats will always take advantage of benefits like discounted health club memberships — but they would probably work out anyway, and discounts may not be enough for those who are seriously overweight or out of shape.

Personalized incentives like fitness coaching and nutrition counseling are often a better way to reach employees in the middle group who just need a little encouragement. It is also crucial to make accommodations for disabled employees.

And the tone taken is crucial: who wants the boss telling you to eat your spinach? A program that feels coercive will probably never be as popular as one with positive incentives, like cheaper health insurance.

Employees respond best to wellness programs that are presented as a form of organizational change, rather than as a top-down imposition of new requirements, according to a study of 243 employees by Ellen Ernst Kossek, a professor of human resource management and organizational behavior at Michigan State University, and two colleagues.

“It shouldn’t be, ‘Here’s this program,’ ” she said. “It should be linked to ‘How do we make a workplace that’s healthy for everyone.’ ”

Scotts Miracle-Gro has one of the most extensive wellness programs on offer. Services include personalized fitness coaching and a $5 million wellness center at its headquarters in Marysville, Ohio, with a gym and medical facilities. The company also has a policy against hiring workers who smoke, where state law permits.

Participation in Scotts’ wellness programs is high — but the company has also seen an unexpected side effect from its efforts.

Last year, Scott Rodrigues filed suit against the company in Massachusetts, saying that Scotts fired him after a drug test found nicotine in his system and that the company’s antismoking policy violated his civil rights.

Harvey Schwartz, Mr. Rodrigues’s lawyer, said the case was also an example of benefits discrimination, where a company dismisses an employee to avoid high benefits costs.

In a motion to dismiss the case, which is pending, Scotts said that Mr. Rodrigues had not actually been hired but had been offered a job on the condition that he pass a drug screen, including a test for nicotine.

“When you look at controlling costs,” said Su Lok, a Scotts spokeswoman, smoking “is something that employers are really taking a stand on.” The company had no comment on the specific case because it is ongoing.

Union Pacific Railroad has had a smoother ride with its longstanding wellness program. The proportion of health insurance claims related to lifestyle has dropped by 11 percentage points over 11 years, said Marcy Zauha, the company’s director for health and safety.

Union Pacific, based in Omaha, offers some companywide wellness benefits, including health risk assessments and stop-smoking plans. But much of the program, including regional walking contests and group weight-loss efforts, is administered locally. Managers’ health promotion initiatives are included in their annual reviews.

“We’ve tried to build health into our existing culture,” Ms. Zauha said.

Fiserv, a financial services technology company based in Brookfield Wis., created a wellness program in 2005 to better recruit and retain employees.

Fiserv employees who fill out a health risk assessment receive a sizable discount on their monthly health insurance premium. There are also companywide fitness challenges: in a recent eight-week walking contest, participants were issued pedometers, and anyone who walked 7,000 steps a day received a prize.

Teams have to been known to question whether their rivals really log the number of steps claimed. But that was fine with Linda Schuessler, manager of wellness promotion.

“As long as they’re engaged,” Ms. Schuessler said, “we don’t really mind those concerns.”

(this is the copy of the article from NY Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/22/business/yourmoney/22mgmt.html?ex=1186113600&en=ded5f6bb661041b0&ei=5070#)

Journal Assignment

The concept at hand is about how managers and company heads would make the most out of their companies by introducing a healthy lifestyle to their employees. It is evident that today, health care costs are so high that rising health insurance premiums would surely be in the way of budgeting for the company (Holland). Obviously, these company heads and managers should not jeopardize the health of their employees, that they should provide the necessary things for their wellness. But surely, this would cost them that it wouldn’t be that easy to pull out strings and fix the budget. That is why these managers should resort to a way that would be more cost effective and keep them from harms way of these health care costs.

The article discusses how managers and company heads employ human resource management in order to do away with the costly expenses of health care and health insurances that they provide to the employees. But this doesn’t mean that they neglect the health of these working people. It is true that these people are very important to the company, that these companies need them in order to be productive, which is why it is important that their every need will be given to them or will be addressed. What these company leaders and managers do is that they make sure that these employees are healthy so that they can avert the spending that they’ll have to give when any of these gets sick or has health problems. In order not to shoulder the burden of health care and health insurance premiums, they offered to keep them fit in their own ways.

In order to do so, these companies offer basically every health guidance and services that they can offer to the employees. These includes educating them regarding nutrition and proper diet, weight management assistance, health risk assessments and checkups, fitness coaching and giving out memberships for fitness groups and health clubs. Through this, the company themselves are able to ensure that their employees are fit and are far from harms way, thus saving them the costs of health care for these people. Thus, the companies’ budgets will not be greatly affected.

If you would relate this approach in human resource management, you could see that this is more on the incentive aspect, wherein you provide your employees something that would keep them going to work. For those who are concerned with their health and well-being, they would surely grab the opportunity of free health club memberships and nutrition education. This is positive for the company, since the employees themselves are the ones who initiate in keeping themselves healthy. Remember, the main concern of the company in this issue is how they can do away with the extra costs of health care and health insurance premiums for their employees.

 Regarding the effectiveness of this approach, the article states that there are already several large-scale companies who adopted this system. They have their own health clubs and offer free membership to their employees. They say that these greatly helps them in cutting costs, thus the allotted budget for healthcare would be saved. There are still some who are not that much into health stuffs, people who think that nutrition education is like intruding with their lives. These people are those who would most likely have health risks and should be given enough consideration in order to engage them in these health programs.

Human resource management surely entails various levels of dealing with the people you are handling. This includes how you handle them, and the ways on how you are able to manage them, making them do what they’re suppose to do. This is where healthcare comes in, wherein their safety and well being is not only their concern, but should also be the company’s priority. When their wellness goes down, the company goes down as well, in terms of both manpower and monetary aspects.

Reference:

Holland, K. (2007). Wellness Programs Try to Be Welcoming, Too. The New York Times. Published July 22, 2007. Retrieved August 1, 2007, from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/22/business/yourmoney/22mgmt.html?ex=1186113600&en=ded5f6bb661041b0&ei=5070#

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