While working remotely has put some wellness programs on hold, creative companies are adding exercise to the workday and enabling people to connect with co-workers. For some, the social interaction is proving to be just as helpful as the physical activity.
Web conferencing applications such as Webex, Zoom and Microsoft Teams are making it easy to participate in everything from stretch breaks to cardio sessions, meditation and yoga classes. In some cases, fitness trainers or coaches stream classes from their studio or home. When sessions involve more conversation than fitness, such as a virtual coffee break in the middle of the day, staff members often take the lead.
Point is that with today’s technology and a little imagination, many employers are finding greater engagement in virtual wellness sessions than they ever achieved with fitness classes in the workplace. If some of your people are still working remotely, why not give it a try?
With behavioral health conditions impacting one in five Americans, it’s no wonder we’re seeing more employers search for ways to provide members with better access to behavioral healthcare benefits.
Statistics show that many employees, including some that are insured, fail to get the mental healthcare they need. Because self-funded health plans provide plan design flexibility, some plans are taking bold steps to address this growing need. While many are using telemedicine to improve access and lower costs, some employers are treating out-of-network behavioral health treatment as in-network, enabling employees to pay the same amount for treatment regardless of which provider they use. Others are covering out-of-network behavioral healthcare services even when their plan doesn’t cover out-of-network services for other types of care.
When you consider that mental illness has become the greatest cause of disability claims in the U.S., it is not surprising that employers are looking for ways to help employees obtain the care they need.
Significant Action is Warranted
There is plenty of research to show that Americans are not getting the mental healthcare they need. According to Mental Health America, despite having health insurance, 56.5% of adults with mental illness received no treatment in the past year.
Another problem is that behavioral health treatments are rarely classified as primary care, and are regarded instead as specialty treatment. This makes people find an in-network provider, go out-of-network, pay higher out-of-pocket costs or avoid treatment altogether. Claims data from Collective Health shows that more than 40% of the 2017 behavioral health spend was out-of-network, which is many times the amount spent on primary or preventative care.
After decades of preaching to workers about the importance of staying fit and physically healthy, the term worksite wellness is beginning to mean much more to employers and employees alike. Leading companies are expanding their workplace wellness initiatives to address mental health and financial security – key components of their employee’s overall well-being that go way beyond physical health.
The National Business Group on Health shows that a majority of employers are addressing emotional and mental health as well as financial security as part of their overall well-being strategy. Other initiatives, such as support for community involvement and social interaction, are pointing to a growing trend of focusing on the entire person and not just physical health or fitness. Research is showing that addressing physical health is only one way to improve the workplace experience and reduce employee turnover.
More Choice Means Greater Satisfaction
While traditional wellness programs have been more “one size fits all” and lacking in personal appeal, some employers are encouraging employees to do the things they like to do by giving employees a flat dollar amount to spend on a gym or pool membership, personal trainer or other self-defined activity they find rewarding. Volunteering to help with community causes or enrolling in educational classes are not out of the realm of possibilities, since these activities can do a lot to help an employee gain a healthier perspective on work and life.
When choices are made by individuals and not for them, better decisions often result. As people share their experiences with others, the impact on a company’s culture can be extremely positive. Better well-being becomes an important priority for everyone and not just those who like spending time on treadmills or yoga mats. From the employer’s perspective, objectives can expand beyond healthcare cost savings and increased productivity. As an example, offering health coaching is a great way to focus on the needs of individuals rather than the group as a whole. It can help companies address emotional and mental needs as well as physical needs.
If worksite wellness is a priority for your organization, this might be a good time to review the goals of your program and then to make sure the activities you are offering are in line with those objectives. There is a lot more to be gained from worksite wellness than lower medical claim costs and redefining wellness may be just what your organization needs.
Financial wellness, standing desks and other wellness strategies are high on the list of benefits trending upward in 2018. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, a growing number of organizations are offering programs to help employees improve their financial well-being. Some companies are providing debt counseling and help with repayment of student loans. Standing desks are becoming very popular, with a growing number of companies offering them to employees as a new wellness benefit.
Health is personal. Everyone has his or her own idea of what health means. Sure, there are some common elements – such as absence of disease or illness – that many people would include in their definitions, but likely no 2 descriptions of health would be the same.
So, with that in mind, thank about what your health is and how you might want to improve it. Taking inventory of what matters to you when it comes to health is the first step toward making changes.
Maybe you’d like to have more energy to do more things. Ask yourself, “Why don’t I have energy? Is it because I’m not getting enough quality sleep or not eating the right foods?” You may not be able to answer the questions on your own, but you have identified what it is that you want and can take the next step, which could be making an appointment to visit with your health care provider.
Learn more at Jul.HopeHealth.com.
For those who simply cannot do without their favorite foods, here’s a list of the things that many of us love, but our hearts wish we would avoid.
Fast Food – Most of it has poor nutritional value, including plenty of fat, calories and processing.
Candy – Go with a small quantity of dark chocolate if you must have some candy, but the sugar just isn’t a good thing for your heart.
Ice Cream – Cardiologists warn that even small amounts of ice cream provide too much fat and sugar – it’s that simple.
Pizza – Pizza nights are tough to beat, especially in cities like Chicago and New York. But unless you make your own, using healthier ingredients, you’re consuming too much fat and salt.
Soft Drinks – These are simply full of sugar and while they may be refreshing on ice, soft drinks are lacking in nutritional value.
Pastries – Few things taste better than cookies, pies and cakes but in high doses, the sugar, fat and gluten can lead to obesity.
Processed Meats – Ham, bacon, hot dogs and other deli meats usually contain lots of salt, fat and even nitrates. Too much salt can boost blood pressure, another risk factor.
A recent survey of more than 1,000 workers showed that allowing people to bring their pets to work can go a long way to build community and reduce stress. Experience shows that people converge around pets, especially dogs, promoting friendly conversations that otherwise wouldn’t have taken place.
Healthcare education is rarely all fun and games, but a new approach might be succeeding at making it just that! They’re being called online education programs – offered to employees as both mobile and online applications.
One popular program called “Quizzify” promises to save money, boost morale, improve health and engage employees by making learning about medical care fun and interesting. And, it promises to do this all without requiring any medical data from participants. Using a game-show contest format, the program asks participants to click through questions as they compete with co-workers for prizes. Not only do people get the chance to receive wellness information, but they also learn about taking care of themselves and even avoiding costly treatment when it may not be needed at all.
And, while this particular service is not free, it may offer a fun, refreshing approach to traditional wellness communication.
While weight loss and smoking cessation are important components of wellness, there are many ways to make people healthy, happy and more productive. If your company has considered a wellness program, but has yet to jump in, you may want to test the water with a few easy-to-implement measures.
- Corporate Challenges – Nothing contributes to team spirit and fitness more than a company or department-wide sports or field day. Mention this idea to a few creative co-workers and they’ll love coming up with activities to hold a few times a year. Hopefully, each event will encourage a few more people to begin their own exercise program.
- Healthy Snacks – Instead of a vending machine stocked with soft drinks and other sugar-filled beverages, fill the fridge with water. While you’re at it, replace chips and candy bars with protein bars, nuts, granola and other healthier snacks.
- Fitness Funding – If your company is like most and lacks an on-premises fitness center, consider reimbursing employees for part of a gym membership (up to a reasonable maximum). To reward serious runners, think about reimbursing part of their 10K or half marathon entry fee.
- Step Counters – Whether you prefer a Fitbit, Jawbone or simple step counter, you may want to provide fitness tracking devices. Depending on the cost, payroll deductions can be offered to help people pay over time. Competitions with small rewards can be added to help people establish and achieve goals.
- Project Zero – As Thanksgiving and the holidays near, you may want to encourage everyone to avoid the traditional holiday weight gain. To roll out this contest, everyone weighs in on the first and last day of the holiday season – for example, November 15th and the first business day of the New Year. All those who make it through the holiday season without gaining any weight receive a prize – perhaps a branded apparel item.
- Biggest Loser – Programs that encourage weight loss can be effective and very popular. Two things to consider when establishing procedures are to share percentages of weight lost rather than actual weight and to avoid listing names of those who have gained weight, rather than losing, in contest updates.
While there can be many more parts to a successful wellness program, fitness certainly is always important. Anything that gets people moving and eating healthier can have a positive impact on the health of your employees and add energy to your workplace.
Employers that offer certain programs designed to improve employee health must be mindful that such programs are subject to a number of different laws–and as recent guidance makes clear, compliance with one law does not necessarily mean that a wellness program will comply with other federal (or state) requirements.
Wellness Programs and HIPAA Nondiscrimination Rules
The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) imposes several requirements on health-contingent wellness programs, i.e., those that require an individual to satisfy a standard related to a health factor to obtain a reward. Participatory wellness programs, which comprise a majority of wellness programs, are generally available without regard to an individual’s health status.
Among other things, health-contingent wellness programs must be reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease and must limit the maximum permissible reward to 30% of the cost of coverage (or 50% for wellness programs designed to prevent or reduce tobacco use). A new set of FAQs explains what it means for a health-contingent wellness program to be “reasonably designed.” The FAQs also caution that compliance with HIPAA does not determine compliance with other federal or state laws.
The ADA and Wellness Programs
The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) restricts covered employers from obtaining medical information from employees, but allows medical examinations of employees and inquiries about their health if they are part of a “voluntary employee health program.”
A new proposed rule provides that a wellness program is considered an employee health program within the meaning of the ADA when it is reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease (similar to the standard currently applicable to health-contingent wellness programs). In addition, the proposed rule:
- Details several requirements that must be met in order for participation to be considered voluntary, and requires employers to provide employees with a notice clearly explaining what medical information will be obtained, who will receive it, how it will be used, and how it will be kept confidential.
- Allows employers to offer limited incentives for employees to participate in wellness programs or to achieve certain health outcomes. The total allowable incentive available under all wellness programs (i.e., both health-contingent and participatory programs) may not exceed 30% of the total cost of employee-only coverage.
- Addresses the confidentiality requirements that apply to the medical information employees provide when they participate in wellness programs.
- Requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations that enable employees with disabilities to participate and to earn whatever incentives the employer offers.
Due to the changing law and the complexity of the requirements that apply to employment-based wellness programs, employers are advised to check with a knowledgeable employment law attorney to ensure that any program complies with all applicable federal and state laws.
Our section on Wellness Programs provides additional details.