Healthy Habits

…From the pages of South Jersey Biz…

More local companies are embracing healthy workplace initiatives as a way to reduce costs as well as improve employees’ well-being.

With health care costs on the rise, today’s businesses are getting creative in promoting good employee health and an overall healthier workplace. For many, that has meant adopting a variety of wellness programs that go beyond the traditional health benefits package. These types of programs were once considered an added benefit, but today, they are becoming standard practice.

South Jersey Biz spoke to companies across the region that are doing everything from walking clubs to on-site gym access to healthy additions in the cafeteria. Smoking cessation programs are also quite popular. A number of companies not only offer access to a program, but also will cover medication costs and may even offer bonuses and health care discounts upon completion. With research indicating that investing in wellness programs can equate to big savings on the massive health care bills today’s corporations face, it’s safe to assume this is no passing trend.

Healthy and Well
“Wellness is here and now,” says Joseph DiBella, managing director and executive vice president of Employees Benefits Consulting at Conner Strong & Buckelew, located in Marlton. “Virtually all of the employers we work with have begun to adopt cultures and principles that promote wellness. It can be as simple as a Weight Watchers meeting held on site or as complex as bringing in wellness coaches to work one on one with each employee.”

PHH Mortgage, headquartered in Mount Laurel, has taken a comprehensive approach to employee wellness with a long list of programs and opportunities. Last year, they adopted the Virgin HealthMiles program, which essentially pays employees to get active. All employees and their spouses enrolled in the company’s medical plan can participate. “Everyone gets a pedometer, which you strap on when you get out of bed, and every step counts,” explains Michele Ruffino, wellness program coordinator. “The more steps you get, the more you can earn. The most is $1,000. In 2011, we paid out $879,000 in rewards.”

While that’s big money being paid out, research shows companies investing that kind of money in their employees’ health are typically getting a great return on investment. “Every client that thinks about implementing this type of program wants to know what the ROI will be,” says DiBella. “An article published in the Harvard Business Review suggests it can be as high as $6 for every dollar invested. There are savings in reduced medical costs and reduced absenteeism.”

On top of that, healthier employees are not only happier and therefore more productive—they’re also more likely to stay with the company. A study by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health shows companies with successful wellness programs report lower voluntary turnover than those with ineffective or no wellness programs.

A Positive Impact
For Cumberland County-based South Jersey Healthcare, it’s been P.R.E.P., Physician Referred Exercise Program, that has promoted healthy lifestyles. Costing only $1 per day for a total of 60 days, participants work with a medical fitness specialist two times per week and also receive a monthly nutrition information session with a registered dietitian.

The program is meant to support those who get a physician referral for exercise but don’t know what to do next. “It’s a very comprehensive program and also includes a 30-day and 60-day evaluation so that you receive information to put in your medical record,” says Bruce Willson, director of South Jersey Healthcare Fitness Connection, the region’s only accredited Medical Fitness Center, and co-chair of the Fit Friendly committee. Fitness Connection memberships are available to employees at a discount.

On-site fitness centers are certainly a convenient way for local companies to promote good health. Three of the Camden County government locations offer fitness centers that are not only open 24/7, but are free of charge for employees. “We want our employees to have the opportunity to take responsibility for their own health and then be able to take that message home and share it with their family and the community,” says Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez, liaison to the Department of Health & Human Services.

Many workplaces are also implementing healthier meal choices. At South Jersey Healthcare, they now offer a heart healthy station that simplifies healthy eating. “We’ve also made our salad bar healthier,” says Willson. “Typical salad dressing serving spoons are probably five times what a serving size should be. We have serving-size appropriate tools so people really understand how much they’re eating.”

At PHH, there is nutritional information posted for all the staple items in the on-site cafeteria. “We also offer a locally grown section along with a 500-calorie lunch that takes the guesswork out of eating healthy,” says Ruffino.

In Camden, the Campbell Soup Company world headquarters has put a number of wellness initiatives in place including “health station tours” in which the different worksites are visited and employees are able to voluntarily participate in receiving their biometric measures (things like blood pressure, cholesterol level and blood sugar) and then meet one on one with a wellness coach. The company also promotes a positive health message with their annual “Healthy Lifestyle Award” in which the selected employees win $500 and are honored throughout the organization for exemplifying healthy living.

“We think that a healthy employee is better engaged here at work and at home,” says Jan Kelly, director of Health and Welfare Programs. “We really pride ourselves on a culture of health, both within the workplace as well as through our focus on the external community.”

While these types of efforts certainly require an investment, all of these companies have touted financial and other benefits. “Quality health care is the most cost effective health care in the long run,” says Kelly. “It’s very circular. It helps us make sure our employees achieve better outcomes while also helping us control cost because people are getting the right care at the right time.”

“The rising level of health care makes it very challenging to maintain an ideal level of service,” adds Rodriguez. “These types of initiatives help us have some control over the cost of health care. We’re not only improving the environment of the employee, but may even benefit the taxpayers. A healthier person is less likely to end up in the hospital, or need expensive treatments or medications. It’s good for the entire community.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 2, Issue 4 (April, 2012).
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Author: Lindsey Getz

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