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Employers struggle to engage employees in wellness | Benefit News

November 20th, 2015 Comments off

“Employers recognize that employees are leaving a lot of money on the table,” said Steven Nyce, senior economist at Towers Watson. “The good news is, employers are doubling down on their commitment to build a culture of health and improve the employee experience through technology and personalized communication. They can also be heartened by the progress some employers are making.”

Echoing Nyce’s thoughts, Shelly Wolff, senior health care consultant at Towers Watson says shifting the focus from paying employees to supporting people at the worksite can make a bigger impact and may even cost less in the long run.

“Creating a culture that values health and changes like incorporating walking/standing meetings, providing healthy foods and pushing employees to be physically active in a sedentary role … all of those things at the workplace are probably more important than spending $900, and you’d probably get more return on that,” she says.

Source: Employers struggle to engage employees in wellness | Benefit News

In the context of knowledge and information organization, the primary problem is the workplace-centric view of wellness such as expressed here. Wellness encompasses all places were staff members spend their time: at the office, at home and for all too many, the sedentary hours spent each week traveling between the two locations.

There is no magic bullet at the office for encouraging health promoting behaviors to ward off preventable, lifestyle-related chronic conditions that cost organizations billions in health care costs and lost productivity. Having standing meetings and offering healthy snacks are largely symbolic measures.

A better and more holistic approach to is to afford staff members the ability to work — and work out — where they spend most of their time: right in their communities. That can be achieved by better leveraging information and communications technology (ICT) to shift away from the centralized commuter office culture to one that treats staff as adults and allows them to manage where and when they get their work done.

That way, they’ll have more freedom to take charge of their wellness and be freed of the time suck of the daily commute (a big contributor to the lack of regular exercise among office workers) to hit the gym, walk, run, swim, and cycle on their own schedules. If organizations want their members to be more engaged in wellness and adopt health promoting behaviors, they need to give them maximum freedom and support to do so. In doing so, they’ll benefit from reduced office and health care costs, lower turnover and higher staff attraction and retention.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Doubts over wellness programs could unravel employer health coverage

December 18th, 2014 Comments off

Questions over the effectiveness of employer wellness programs intensified this month and could mark the beginning of the end of employer-sponsored health benefits that have already been eroding from the bottom up in the small group market segment. Wellness programs seek to improve the health status of large employer risk pools in order to reduce the utilization of high cost medical services and to hold down premiums for large insured employers. Now that their efficacy has been called into question, it also begs the larger question of the degree of control large employers have over health care costs. The experience with wellness programs suggests little if any. As Bill Leonard writes for the Society For Human Resource Management:

Even with the modest rise in health care costs over the past several years, sources familiar with the issue believe businesses have reached a tipping point and that the expense of providing medical benefits to workers has become unsustainable. Cost-containment efforts therefore are putting more pressure on wellness programs to deliver on the promise of reducing health care expenses. However, as the CHRO survey and other recent studies have shown, wellness plans may not be producing the return on investment (ROI) that employers expect and need.

The sense of no control over rising costs could prompt large employers to increasingly throw up their hands and cease offering health benefits. The money saved could then be redirected to higher earnings and compensation that couldn’t be done when the U.S. government established wage and price controls during World War II and employers first began offering employee health benefits in lieu of higher compensation. That in turn would create pressure to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers with 50 or more employees offer health coverage.

There would also be a philosophical motive. Employers and employees alike could rightly declare health is an individual responsibility. Accordingly, the role of employing organizations would shift from a medicalized view of wellness – one that wellness program critics equate to nannying — to one that promotes a culture of wellness that supports healthy lifestyle choices and affords their members sufficient schedule control to engage in health promoting behaviors such as adequate sleep and exercise. Those behaviors require time and commitment in order to become healthy lifestyle habits. For office-based knowledge workers where the greatest occupational hazard is sedentary lifestyles that lead to preventable chronic health conditions, giving them greater control over when and where they work would provide a mutually beneficial tradeoff for taking responsibility for their health. That could pay bonuses in the form of increased engagement and staff attraction and retention.
 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Symbolic wellness programs will remain just that – and get bubkes for results

November 13th, 2013 Comments off

Yahoo! provides an example of a highly symbolic participatory wellness program that isn’t likely to significantly improve the health status of Yahooligans.

Here are some excerpts from the story by Bloomberg BusinessWeek:

In an effort to whip its desk-bound, tech-loving workforce into shape, Yahoo! (YHOO) is offering free Jawbone Up fitness bands to all employees—with a few conditions. If workers want use the gizmo (retail price: $129.99) to tally their every action while exercising, commuting, sitting, and eating all that free Yahoo food, they must first agree to run or walk at least 100 miles in 30 days.

While commuting? Few Yahooligans likely walk or cycle to the Yahoo! campus, instead most arriving on site after long and stressful Silicon Valley commutes (among the worst in the nation) that degrade their health status.

Yahoo already offers such old-fashioned health resources as onsite fitness centers with classes in yoga, cardio-kickboxing, pilates, golf, and so forth. Even those who work in locations without a fitness center receive $100 quarterly reimbursements toward health-club memberships, according to the company’s website. Sure, the wristbands can reveal depressing data about how many hours a person sits in front of a computer monitor and how many doughnuts are consumed. Whether the results can persuade a user to hit the gym isn’t something a device can control.

Yahooligans stressed out from the commute can release some of that stress in the on site fitness center. While management decreed earlier this year all Yahooligans must to show up on campus every work day, hopefully it doesn’t expect them to spend the day in their cubicles since that isn’t going to score points on their fitness bands.

Instead of nannying staff, a better wellness approach than this highly symbolic, one size fits all PR stunt would be would be to treat people as adults and give them control over when and where they work. Wellness is a personal lifestyle choice. People must have the freedom to make that choice according to their individual needs and devote the necessary time to achieve it.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Survey suggests lack of schedule control limits participation in wellness programs

April 13th, 2013 Comments off

Organizations are struggling with the transition from a commute-to-the-cubicle, 20th century Industrial Age environment where work is performed during set times in centralized locations to one that affords more control over when and where work is performed. As a result, many are also struggling with wellness programs, finding that staff lack the time in their daily schedules for sustained physical activity, as shown by the recently released 2013 Global Workplace Health and Wellness Report. The findings of the survey 378 organizations in various industries and a link to the report can be found in this Forbes article, Employees Don’t Have Time for Wellness Initiatives.

The survey’s finding that lack of time for exercise is a major obstacle for wellness programs is hardly surprising. The Industrial Age work style consumes most of people’s waking hours and energies in minimum 8-hour-long “shifts” and time sucking, stressful commutes. All involving prolonged sitting that studies show adversely affect health status. Then when they get home mentally exhausted, it’s more inactivity and collapsing onto the couch, often with take-out food. And we wonder why as a society we’re getting fatter and sicker.

Achieving wellness requires exercise.  And sustained exercise performed on most days takes time. The implication to be drawn from the Global Workplace Health and Wellness Report is wellness isn’t so much as a “workplace” issue as a personal time management and lifestyle issue.

The good news is organizations have 21st century Information and Communications Technology (ICT) at their disposal to help alleviate the time crunch. ICT allows staff to work most any place and time, affording them more control over their personal schedules to engage in exercise programs in their own communities chosen by them and their health care professionals. While organizations clearly have a stake in the health of their members, health is ultimately an individual lifestyle choice. The National Wellness Institute defines wellness as “an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.” Making the right choice for health requires organizations provide their members sufficient control over their work schedules to exercise that choice.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Creating an organizational wellness culture for the 21st Century

January 16th, 2013 Comments off

BenefitsPro.com has posted an item forecasting four employer wellness trends for 2013 featuring Stephanie Pronk of Aon Hewitt.  Pronk emphasizes a point for every employer interested a healthier workforce and lower healthcare costs: that employee wellness cannot be seen simply in the context of the work site, but must create a lifestyle change.  “When you think about why safety programs are so successful in organizations, it’s because they’re engrained in the culture,” Pronk is quoted as saying. “It’s part of the way they do their work every day, so we need to work at health and wellness in the same way. We need culture changes to support healthy behaviors in the long term.”

A major health safety hazard of the information and Internet economy of the 21st Century is holding onto outdated 20th Century practices that assume knowledge work can only be performed in a central office location between 8:30 and 5, Monday through Friday.  That forces knowledge workers into a sedentary existence that can lead to and aggravate chronic conditions associated with lack of exercise.  Riding the commute-to-cubicle treadmill (in a seated position) also sucks valuable time out of their lives, leading many to justifiably claim they lack the time for meaningful, regular exercise and even sufficient sleep.  And that’s not even counting the adverse impact on employee engagement and retention.  The commute-to-cubicle treadmill isn’t merely a job – it’s a default lifestyle – and an unhealthy one.

Employers that are truly committed to helping their staff members adopt healthier lifestyles must give them the freedom and responsibility to do so by giving them control over their daily schedules.  As this blog has noted previously, recently released research has shown the potential of schedule control to support health promoting behaviors – and by extension, healthier lifestyles.  Schedule control enables knowledge workers to function whenever and wherever they are productive with the proviso that they stay in communication with their team and management and fulfill their job functions and tasks. It’s an elegant, low cost wellness program that leverages the power of today’s Information and Telecommunications Technology (ICT) and truly represents the kind of organizational cultural change for the 21st Century that Pronk correctly observes is necessary to achieve a healthier workforce.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Time for sustained exercise to bend the healthcare cost curve — and promote better thinking

January 1st, 2013 2 comments

Knowledge workers earn their livings analyzing, abstracting and communicating.  In today’s Information/Internet economy, all too many knowledge workers needlessly do so working under legacy Industrial Age 8-5 office schedules, spending even more time each day relatively immobile than sleeping.  Add to that another 1-3 hours spent sitting in a daily commute to a central office location.  Month after month, year after year of this occupational lifestyle sets the stage for the development of preventable chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity that drive the health cost curve and the health insurance crisis.

But that’s not all.  Lack of physical movement can also dull the knowledge worker’s most important tool: their brain.  This Sacramento Bee article cites research linking physical activity to the brain’s ability to perform learning and memory tasks.

The clear conclusion to be drawn is sustained exercise could produce dividends for organizations by not only lowering their healthcare and insurance costs, but also the added bonus of better and more creative thinking.  For knowledge organizations, affording workers control over their schedules and time for sustained exercise probably is likely the most cost effective “workplace wellness” program going.  A key program component is ditching outmoded Industrial Age commuting and office hours and becoming a more virtual organization and maximizing the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT).  Knowledge work can be done anywhere, and some of the most creative thinking happens during and after sustained exercise.  That requires freeing up time for it every work day by getting people out of their cars and cubicles.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Schedule control necessary if contingent wellness programs are to achieve meaningful results

December 23rd, 2012 Comments off

In November, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a proposed rule governing wellness programs offered as part of employer-sponsored health plans for plan years beginning January 1, 2014.  The proposed rule is aimed at boosting incentive for large employers to increase the health status of their employees since large employers will be continue to be regarded as discrete risk pools under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, whereas small employers will be collectively treated as a single risk pool.

In addition to the traditional participatory wellness programs such as discounts on fitness club memberships, health assessments and seminars, the proposed rules create an enhanced incentive for employers to offer health contingent wellness programs.  The contingency?  Employees must adopt a lifestyle changes and health improvement plans designed to help them reach target biometric goals such reducing weight, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, or cholesterol levels.  If they hit the prescribed targets, the proposed rule would allow employers to reward the employee with a payout of up to 30 percent of the cost of the employee’s health coverage for the plan year, an increase over the current 20 percent permitted under rules adopted in 2006.

The rulemaking’s preamble suggests HHS believes the increase in the maximum reward is necessary to boost participation in contingent wellness programs. It cites a 2010 survey by NBGH and TowersWatson in which just four percent of responding employers reported offering financial incentives for maintaining a BMI within target levels.  Only three percent did so for maintaining targets for blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  Based on these numbers, increasing the maximum award level alone isn’t likely to produce a significant increase in the number of employers and employees participating in contingent wellness programs.

However, if such programs were joined with affording employees greater control over when and where they work, participation could increase substantially and employers would see a potentially large payoff in improved employee health status and reduced medical utilization.  Schedule control eliminates the “I don’t have time” excuse for not engaging in health promoting behaviors such as regular exercise and getting sufficient amounts of sleep.  If employers want employees to take responsibility for their health, they must give them the means to adopt healthy lifestyles and avoid the daily sedentary (and hardly health promoting) routine of commuting to and from and sitting in a centralized office.  Plus they would likely enjoy the added bonus of crisper and more creative thinking and better ideas from employees getting plenty of sleep and exercise thanks to having more control over their work schedules.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

More study needed of schedule control as promising “worksite wellness” strategy

December 8th, 2012 1 comment

As organizations increasingly seek ways to improve the health status of their workforces and reduce burgeoning waistlines and health care utilization costs, they must look to new approaches that hold potential for achieving meaningful results.  A strategy previously discussed on this blog is affording workers more control over when and where they work – known as schedule control – in which work is seen as an activity and not a destination.

In a 2011 study, schedule control showed promise among knowledge workers who thanks to today’s information and communications technology (ICT) are able to be productive independent of time and place.  The study of 659 knowledge workers found that affording them schedule control can promote employee wellness, particularly in terms of prevention behaviors.  Another study published in 2007 found a positive association among workers who perceived greater control over their work schedules with hours of sleep and the frequency of physical activity.  It concluded schedule control may play an important role in effective worksite health promotion programs.

Health professionals would agree that health promoting behaviors take dedication and time – sufficient time for meaningful exercise and adequate sleep. In recent decades, however, time has become a restricted commodity for full time workers, taking a toll on their health status. Indeed, a 1996 study correlated too insufficient time for both work and family obligations to poor health outcomes.  Another study sponsored by Health Canada in 2004 found workers with high levels of work time conflict were in poorer physical and mental health and made greater use of Canada’s health care system.

Schedule control provides a means to take back wasted time and thus offers a potential win-win wellness solution for organizations.  Providing it costs organizations virtually nothing and even offers the possible bonus of saving on office space costs.  For knowledge workers, it frees up time devoted to a no longer necessary daily commute to the office. (Commuting has been shown in a European study to interfere with patterns of everyday life by restricting free time and reducing sleeping time.)  While more study is needed, existing research suggests that perhaps the most promising “worksite wellness” intervention may be to drop the “site” and instead focus on the work and the worker.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Schedule control: Real cultural change toward achieving a healthier California

November 16th, 2012 Comments off

California, which once basked in the suntanned imagery of youthful vigor and health and fitness recognizes the shine has faded as its population grows older and more sedentary and obese, spawning an unprecedented increase in chronic, preventable disease.  Earlier this year, the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown formed a task force with the vision of restoring the Golden State to the healthiest in the nation by 2022.  This week, the Let’s Get Healthy California Task Force released a draft report outlining how the state will achieve that vision based on six goals and associated priorities and health indicators.

Brown and his Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Diana Dooley – who also chairs Covered California, the state’s health benefit exchange — are to be commended for initiating and championing this monumental project.  When it comes to something as big as improving the health status of the nation’s most populous state, one of the task force’s members, Dave Regan, president of Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West, clearly understands what’s needed to generate the enormous momentum to counter the sickly, sedentary status quo.  Here’s what he said with the release of the draft report as reported by the California HealthCare Foundation’s California Healthline:

There’s lots and lots of good stuff in here. What I’m thinking about is what’s not in here,” said Dave Regan, president of Service Employees International Union. “I keep going back to two things — 80% of what drives health care costs is behavioral, and only 20% of the cost of health care can be affected by what we do today.”

Regan said there needs to be a bigger change, a cultural change, to affect some of the root causes of rising health care costs and poor health of Californians.

“When you look at the goals and indicators in here, we may have a forest-and-trees effect. The behavioral culture is far more influential than all of us nibbling at the margins. … Unless we change the behaviors of millions of people, then we’re just tilting at windmills.”

Regan’s exactly right.  And he need look no further than the state workforce – a large portion represented by his union –  to see a glaring example of a subsection of the bigger California health problem.  These thousands of state employees need to get out of their offices and cubicles and exercise more.  Especially as they drive up the cost of providing them health care with one third driven by chronic conditions and raise serious questions as to whether the state will be able to afford to provide them health coverage in retirement.

But they are held prisoner by a rigid, outmoded Industrial Age work culture that requires them to be at the desks from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday.  Most could shift their work outside this fixed time frame and location, thanks to today’s information and communications technology — much of it innovated in California — that makes it easily possible for them to do their jobs in a home office or other locations where they can be productive.

This “work shifting” is an essential cultural change that Regan correctly says is needed because it affords people control over their daily schedules and frees up hours each week of wasted commuting time.  A 2011 University of Minnesota study found when people are afforded control over when and where they perform their jobs, they got more sleep and exercise.  Schedule control is thus a potentially powerful cultural shift because it enables healthy living – a goal identified in the task force report – and makes it easier for people to adopt healthier lifestyle choices.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

NCHC recommendations for reducing health care spending overlook schedule control as key to adoption of healthier lifestyles

November 9th, 2012 Comments off

The National Coalition on Health Care has issued its recommendations for bending the relentless rise in health care costs, Curbing Costs Improving Care the Path to an Affordable Health Care Future.  The bulk of the report focuses on treatment and payment reforms with one section devoted to “Prevention and Population Health.”  A key recommendation is sin taxes to deter the consumption of tobacco, alcohol and sweetened beverages.  That’s hardly a prevention and wellness strategy.

Conspicuously absent are meaningful recommendations to give people more control over their lives and schedules so they can spend more time engaging in healthy behaviors like getting adequate exercise and sleep and eating a nutritious diet.  Achieving it will involve nothing short of a transformation of how we conceptualize knowledge and information-based work and when and where it gets done.  We no longer need to commute daily to an office to do it, thanks to the widespread availability of information and communications technology.  Here’s how one blogger described this arguably obsolete work routine:

1 – Wake up earlier than you want to.
2 – Get stuck in traffic on the way to work.
3 – Feel stressed all day at work.
4 – Go home, throw a frozen dinner in the microwave because you’re too tired to cook.
5 – Plop down in front of the TV because you’re too exhausted to do anything else.
6 – Go to bed later than you meant to.
7 – Repeat.

This is a toxic societal lifestyle that over time sets the stage for the development of chronic, preventable conditions that drive much of the health care spend.  A 2011 University of Minnesota study found when people are afforded control over when and where they perform their jobs, they got more sleep and exercise. Bravo. That’s true, low (negligible) cost prevention that can go a long way toward maintaining health and reducing medical utilization and spending.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

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