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Don’t break the bank for effective wellness programs

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employee Benefits Program,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Issue: More employers are warming up to wellness programs to help reduce health care costs.

Benefit/risk: Wellness works, but choosing the wrong pieces of the wellness puzzle can lower your ROI dramatically.

Action: Focus your program on efforts that create the greatest cost savings for the least investment, starting with the following five.

Last year, Lincoln Plating's $245,000 investment in a comprehensive wellness program resulted in savings of $2.7 million, mostly in health care costs. And the Nebraska-based metal finishing company paid health insurance premiums for its 450 employees at nearly half the national average.

Lincoln Plating may be a model for wellness success, but it isn't the only company reaping the rewards. An Aon Consulting study says 43 percent of employers have established a disease-management and health promotion/wellness strategy, while another 19 percent say they're looking into starting a wellness program.

Wellness programs not only cut costs, but they show top execs that HR specialists can create and lead big-picture strategies that directly affect the bottom line.

Your goal: Focus your program on wellness efforts that generate the biggest cost savings at the lowest cost investment.

Dan Krick, Lincoln Plating's VP of HR and a national expert on wellness programs, suggests following five wellness steps that produce the best ROI:

1. Reward employees with premium reductions. Lincoln Plating's "Well Bucks" program lets employees earn up to $40 in health insurance premium reductions each quarter, based on their participation in various wellness initiatives.

"The money you spend is worth it," says Krick.

Note: The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 places some limits on insurance premium discounts used as wellness incentives. Consult your attorney for guidance on your specific circumstances.

2. Hold smoke-free workshops and ban smoking on the premises. Lincoln Plating did it five years ago, and smokers can't earn health insurance discounts. Employees who claim to quit are on the honor system.

3. Start employees moving. The company buys pedometers and encourages employees to walk at lunch. Departmental teams compete to see who can rack up the most mileage. Winners earn Well Bucks. The company offers yoga classes and a fitness reimbursement program. It doesn't have an on-site fitness center because its discussions with other employers revealed that few employees used them.

4. Perform quarterly health screenings. Lincoln Plating checks employees' blood pressure, body fat, flexibility and weight each quarter. They review results with the wellness manager or occupational nurse, then set individual goals. Costs for screening services vary greatly; shop around.

5. Stock vending machines with healthy food. "Our vendor hesitated to do it, saying that it won't sell," says Krick. "But we made it a condition of doing business."

So, how much should you spend on a wellness program? Krick says an employer with a small budget could start with $20 to $50 per employee per year. That's $2,000 to $5,000 for 100 employees.

"The number-one mistake I see HR people make is starting wellness efforts without thinking about how they fit into company culture and beliefs," says Krick. For example, honesty is a Lincoln Plating company value and, without it, the honor system-bound smoking cessation program might not have succeeded.

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