Creating a Culture Focused on Wellness

by Dianna Brodine

Management   Spring  2010

A healthy employee base can translate to stable health care costs for both employer and employee; a reduction in sick days, which translates to increased productivity; and a drop in employee stress levels. Two MAPP member companies are taking a proactive stance to combat escalating health care costs and increase staff fitness through comprehensive wellness programs designed to educate and support their workers. By providing the tools necessary for success and adding incentives for reaching goals, these companies are creating a culture that embraces wellness.

Nicolet Plastics, Inc. Nicolet Plastics, Inc. (NPI) is an injection molder located in Mountain, Wis. With 61 employees, the company draws its employees from three communities, including Mountain, Lakewood, and Townsend, with a total population of under 3,500. The molder operates 24/5 with small run sizes that necessitate flexibility with set-ups and changeovers.

NPI’s wellness program was created three years ago with the dual purpose of creating a healthy workforce and reducing health insurance premiums. “Health insurance premiums were on the rise, and we realized we needed to do more than shop the network of insurance providers for a lower cost premium year after year,” explained Ann Kroll, human resources director. “Beyond that, NPI is truly concerned with the health, wellness, and overall welfare of our team members and community.” NPI instituted a wellness program, geared toward providing health information and instilling a desire to participate in some sort of physical activity, with the benefits of obtaining relief from rising insurance costs and creating a fit workforce. By providing information about healthful options, NPI hoped to trigger its employees to spend more time thinking about the choices they were making.

In 2009, NPI invited every employee enrolled in the health insurance plan to participate in a health risk assessment (HRA). Spouses also were allowed to participate. The assessment provided a baseline for the company’s overall health, including weight, body mass index, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure. At the same time, a survey was conducted to measure the employees’ interest in wellness program topics with the three biggest issues listed as stress, cholesterol, and weight control.

As a result, the NPI wellness program now addresses issues beyond physical health. Flyers with information on financial, mental, physical, and personal growth concerns are posted in bathroom stalls, the break room, and on the employee bulletin board. New to 2010 is the addition of a guest speaker to quarterly employee meetings. The speakers do not focus exclusively on health issues, but also provide facts on subjects that affect employee stress levels. A financial training session on 401ks in January triggered 16 employees to make changes to their 401ks, indicating that the session was successful in educating NPI’s staff about their options and, possibly, reducing part of the anxiety associated with retirement planning.

To encourage a healthy lifestyle, NPI offers local gym memberships at a reduced cost, and an on-site nurse meets with team members twice each month to assist with questions and concerns. The nurse encourages employees to visit a primary care physician, aids with dietary questions, and has made significant headway in reducing a prevalent blood pressure issue for NPI employees.

NPI also will implement its first incentive program this year. Employees who participated in the company’s health risk assessment automatically receive a gift card to recognize their efforts and, for those who meet certain health criteria, a premium reduction plan will make an impact. “We want to recognize the people who are already doing the right things,” said Kroll.

Kroll is excited by the intangible results she sees every day. “The thinking is changing,” she explained. “There are more people walking around with a water bottle, and the snacks that our employees bring into the lunchroom are including vegetables and lower calorie options. We used to have three snack machines and now we only have one because the vendor was no longer making enough profit to justify the extra machines.” Kroll also has watched the employees work as a team to find information and support each other through health struggles. “There are still things to work on, but I think we’ve made great strides.”

For Nicolet Plastics, progress has happened slowly as a change in habits follows an adaptation in thinking. There have been slight improvements in the company’s HRA numbers, and Kroll calls them “improvements to be proud of”. For the first time, the proposed increase in the company’s health insurance renewal cost was under 15 percent, and Nicolet challenged that increase based on the information derived from utilization reports. The insurance company lowered the initial renewal amount by three percent.

“It has been said if you want to change what a person does, change the way they think,” said Kroll. “I believe the last three years have been about changing thought processes, and more rewards from those changes are on the horizon.”

Infinity Molding & Assembly, Inc. Located in Mt. Vernon, Ind., Infinity Molding & Assembly, Inc. has 75 employees running three shifts, five days a week. The injection molder implemented its wellness program in 2002 in an attempt to control rising health care costs.

“Because we are a small company, health insurance takes a huge cut out of our bottom line,” stated Cheri Conyers, SPHR, director of human resources. “We have taken measures to help control these costs by putting together a health benefit package that helps both the employees and the company.” Infinity offers its employees a self-funded health insurance plan, allowing the company to monitor plan usage and then tailor the plan as needed based on the information collected. To complement the company’s health benefits, Infinity also gives its employees the opportunity to take advantage of a flexible spending account.

As part of the company’s wellness program, employees and spouses are invited each year to participate in on-site wellness screenings. During the screening process, participants fill out a short questionnaire and go through a series of processes including blood pressure, height and weight, blood work to determine cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. The company does not collect the results of each participant’s screenings, but does receive a summary of the group results. From this, the company is able to determine overall risk, healthcare costs, and programming needs for the group.

The data gathered through the health insurance plan and wellness screenings also is provided to Infinity’s wellness coaches for customized employee education on topics that benefit the greatest number of workers. “Since the cost of health care has been rising at alarming rates, our wellness plan has been hugely beneficial to us by making members aware of their own health conditions. Awareness of health conditions is essential to help identify chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, and increasing that awareness through education is the most important action we can take as an employer to control long-term healthcare cost,” said Conyers.

Infinity’s health benefit program also includes an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for employees and members of their household. The EAP provides counseling for employees dealing with stress, depression, anxiety, family or marital relationship issues, finances, alcohol and drugs, and eldercare concerns. “Having this plan in place provides a complete package of resources to assist our employees in their health and happiness,” Conyers explained.

At Infinity, 97 percent of its employees participate in the health programs, and the company credits its wellness incentives for high employee participation levels. The program began by offering a health insurance premium discount to employees who participated in the health screening process, and slowly built up to more strict guidelines and higher discounts. Currently, employees and spouses receive a discount upon meeting three out of four incentive criteria (LDL cholesterol values, blood pressure, body mass index, and blood sugar), with an extra discount offered for those who are tobacco-free. The savings of 12 to 21 percent is applied during each payroll period, with the additional tobacco-free discount lowering costs by another 15 to 27 percent. “By being healthy and meeting these wellness standards,” said Conyers, “both the employee and Infinity have potential cost savings.”

The plan in place at Infinity Molding is serving its purpose, helping to control costs and making an impact on the bottom line. “Our wellness plan has been a large factor in minimizing our health insurance increases,” Conyers reported. “Although our costs have not decreased, we have prevented the large increases reported by other plan holders.” However, the results of the wellness plan have gone far beyond lowered health premiums for employee and company:

  • Twelve employees quit using tobacco.
  • On-site screening identified one employee with diabetes and another employee with cholesterol issues requiring medications.
  • Many employees lowered their blood pressure by decreasing calories, caffeine, and stress; sleeping better; and exercising more.
  • Several employees have lost a considerable amount of weight – ranging from 9 to 65 pounds – through a combination of healthy eating and regular exercise.
  • Absenteeism has decreased from 3.3 percent to 2.0 percent.
  • Workers Compensation claims have decreased.

For information on creating a wellness plan, consult with a local hospital or with the company’s health insurance provider.