Aon Hewitt’s survey shows a growing number of employers are beginning to link incentives to a result, as opposed to simply participating in a program. Of companies that offer incentives, 58 percent offer some form of incentive for completing lifestyle modification programs, such as quitting smoking or losing weight. About one-quarter offer incentives for progress or attainment made towards meeting acceptable ranges for biometric measures such as blood pressure, body mass index, blood sugar and cholesterol.
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“Employers know that eight health behaviors, including risks such as lack of physical activity and failure to complete recommended preventive screenings, drive 15 chronic conditions that lead to higher medical costs and increased absence from work. An effective incentive strategy rewarding those who take action to improve their health is fundamental for improving health and reducing cost,” said Stephanie Pronk, clinical health improvement leader for Health & Benefits at Aon Hewitt.
Rather than offer incentives for healthy lifestyle choices, employers seeking measurable gains in the health status of their workforces and decreased medical utilization for preventable conditions should afford employees more control over their schedules in order to free up time for exercise and adequate sleep. One of the biggest reasons employees don’t exercise is lack of time — largely due to the outdated expectation that they must commute to an office five days a week in order to perform their jobs. It effectively chains workers to their cars and their desks most of their waking hours and is a prescription for employee sickness, not wellness. This situation cannot be rectified with any amount of “wellness” incentives. Instead of trying to bribe workers to take better care of themselves, employers should treat them as adults and give them more responsibility and control over their schedules as long as they get their work done. How? By adopting a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE).
In today’s business world, there are plenty of things to be sick about. Urgent deadlines (even when some aren’t urgent), constant interruptions (how many times do you need to hear about Steve’s weekend?!), way too many meetings, endless politics that waste precious energy that could be aimed at the actual work – not to mention an all-around lack of sleep. These reasons, and so many more, can lead to workers who are just plain miserable.
So when we say that the workplace is full of “healthcare” issues, we mean a bit more than benefits. The health of any office is tied to a number of factors beyond the doctor’s office, and it would seem that even the best insurance plans can’t protect against the evils of limited vacation time or long commutes.
ROWE presents a true workplace wellness program that can get real results, reducing health care utilization. It goes beyond gym membership subsidies (not beneficial if people don’t have time to go there) and symbolic gestures like award certificates for serving healthy snacks at meetings.
Nearly one third of California state worker health care costs attributable to preventable chronic conditions
An Urban Institute Health Policy Center study released this week commissioned by the California State Controller’s Office found nearly 30 percent of health care expenditures for California state workers in 2008 were attributable to lifestyle-related chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. Ironically, the study determined, state entities with the highest percentages of employees with these preventable conditions staffed health-related departments including the Department of Health Care Services and the Department of Public Health. According to this Sacramento Bee story, the latter department will pilot a workplace wellness program that was kicked off in a ceremony emceed by television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz. Later in the week, Gov. Jerry Brown, noting preventable and chronic health conditions account for 80 percent of the Golden State’s healthcare expenditures, ordered the state’s Health and Human Services Agency to create a task force to develop a 10-year plan for improving the health of Californians.
California is to be commended in recognizing that some form of intervention is required to bring down medical utilization costs among its workers where a degree of choice and control can be exercised. The California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), is one of the nation’s biggest purchasers of health benefits, so whatever the state does to demonstrably bend the cost curve is likely to serve as a national model for public and private employers as well as payers and providers as an emerging accountable care paradigm begins to take root.
However, state officials should give thoughtful consideration to how this intervention is framed and executed if it is to have more than symbolic value and actually reduce medical expenditures. “Workplace wellness” is a misnomer insofar as the lifestyle choices that can exacerbate — and prevent — chronic conditions are made mostly outside of the workplace and involve personal decisions concerning exercise, meals and sleep. Moreover, a 2011 survey of employers found mixed results among those that adopted workplace wellness programs in terms of tangibly improving the health status of employees.
Instead of “workplace wellness,” the focus should be simply on wellness. It should treat employees like adults and give them the freedom to make the personal lifestyle choices they and their medical providers believe can best improve and preserve their health and fitness. Confining employees to a cubicle for set work hours 40 hours a week and adding on more sedentary time spent commuting to and from that cubicle is hardly a health promoting activity. It robs workers of valuable time that could be spent on activities that enhance health, particularly sustained exercise. Nor is it necessary since Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has matured to the point state employees who are mostly knowledge and information workers can do their jobs from a home office or wherever else they can concentrate and be productive.
On this point, California’s pilot employee wellness program should incorporate a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE). A ROWE values getting the work done over daily office attendance. Early indications are that workplaces that adopt ROWE can achieve better health status. A University of Minnesota study issued in December 2011 found workers in a ROWE realized increased health-related behaviors of more sleep and exercise — behaviors that can go a long way toward maintaining health and reducing medical utilization.
In an information intensive economy, those who create, process, analyze and add value to information can do so from anywhere thanks to the proliferation of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) over the past two decades. Yet paradoxically, many Americans still engage in a daily commute to the office as if it were the 1950s of Dagwood Bumstead or the 1980s that inspired the more modern day office place comic strip, Dilbert. In those days, commuting to the office was necessary because that’s where the office equipment was — telephones, typewriters (and later, dedicated word processors), photocopiers and fax machines. Not anymore. Today, nearly any setting can function as an office where a knowledge worker can concentrate and be productive.
Nevertheless, on average Americans spend nearly an hour a day getting to and from an office that ICT has effectively rendered obsolete. That adds up to a lot of wasted and often stress filled time piled on top of an increasingly sedentary culture that battles the rising health care costs of lifestyle-induced chronic conditions linked to a lack of exercise, poor diet, and inadequate sleep. For the time crunched trying to balance family obligations with work, avoiding these adverse health impacts is even more challenging. Just look around any traditional office setting and chances are you’ll see plenty of stressed out, sleep deprived, and overweight people who are more likely use medical services and in turn increase their employers’ health care utilization costs.
What’s needed is a new model for traditional office-based work that can free up time for exercise, healthier home cooked meals and sleep that would otherwise be wasted on daily commuting. Fortunately, such a model better suited to today’s highly connected, information everywhere economy exists: ROWE or a Results Only Work Environment. A ROWE values getting the work done over daily office attendance. Early indications are that workplaces that adopt ROWE can achieve better health status at a time when workplace wellness is getting increased attention to slow the nation’s unsustainable rise in health care costs. A University of Minnesota study issued in December 2011 found workers in a ROWE realized increased health-related behaviors of more sleep and exercise — behaviors that can go a long way toward maintaining health and reducing medical utilization. ROWE is poised to become the successor to traditional “workplace wellness” programs that have been slow to demonstrate tangible progress in reducing employer health care costs.