2012 Trends in Corporate Wellness Programs

Abra Pappa for Nutritious America

In recent years there has certainly been a shift toward a more holistic understanding of health, seen in the rise in alternative therapies and a deeper understanding and interest in food and its affect on ones health. In corporate America, this same “holistic” seed has been planted. With insurance premiums on the rise corporations are working hard to reduce healthcare cost and improve the health of their employees. Corporate wellness managers are focusing deeper on disease prevention, understanding that a true ROI (return on investment) comes not just from claims reduction but also from claims avoidance. As the Centers for Disease Control reports that chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, hypertension and high cholesterol count for 75% of health care spending and 45% of Americans have at least one chronic disease, corporations know that prevention is key because disease management is expensive.

So what’s new for 2012 in the corporate health world? How are corporations looking to get in the disease prevention game?

Incentives, incentives, incentives. The biggest trend for 2012 is offering incentives for staying healthy. I am talking cold hard cash incentives. At a recent corporate wellness event I attended employees were signing up for a cash incentive program with the company gym; the more times they went to the gym, the more points they accumulated, the more points they accumulated the more cash they would receive at the end of the year. They could also accumulate points by reducing some core health numbers like BMI, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Many companies are also offering large incentives by way of reduced health care cost to the employee including lowered deductible. However, these incentive programs have been met with some controversy. Some feel that offering incentives naturally means that employees that do not reduce their health numbers or do not participate in “work related” health events are being penalized. Some report that incentive programs feel a bit too Big Brother and that it is an infringement on the employee’s personal and private life.

In addition to incentives, companies are broadening their horizons in 2012. Margaret McDermott, Executive Director of Horizon Wellness Group which provides companies with holistic minded health fairs and wellness events, says that there has been a shift in perspective on the part of human resources and benefits professionals.

“The ‘new’ trends in corporate wellness include a renewed understanding that health begins with what you feed your body. Companies are much more open to our holistic approach to educating employee populations about food, nutrition, having more energy and cooking. Companies and individuals are ‘hungry’ for practical solutions that they can incorporate into their already overbooked lifestyles.”

McDermott says, “It takes a village to keep employees healthy and health is such a personal topic.” Companies are looking to resources like Horizon Wellness Group to provide events and opportunities for employees to take ownership of their health, to empower employees to get healthy and stay healthy.

The type of wellness events offered in corporations is definitely trending toward more innovative, exciting events. 2012 is the year for corporations to increase participation at events, currently at a very low 10-20%. Wellness managers have been forced to begin to think outside the box to provide events that are engaging and will not be met with resistance. Gone are the days of the boring health power point presentation, teaching employees how to count calories and reduce fat intake. Instead, this year companies will focus on wellness events geared toward cutting edge health knowledge, including disease prevention through food knowledge, superfoods, and cooking events. Events that provide employees with not only the “how” of getting healthy but the big “WHY.” As education efforts are amped up, and employees gain a greater understanding of the benefits to a healthier lifestyle, participation at wellness events increases. Moreover, companies are beginning to create a culture of wellness, one-off events are not effective if there is still a break room filled with donuts and coffee. When the entire work environment is dedicated to healthier options employees are more likely to get on board with health events and incentives. One on one and group health coaching programs are also on the rise as studies show the most effective way to create change is with individual personal attention and support.

Corporate wellness managers are focused on the big picture this year, providing employees with the education and support necessary to get healthy and stay healthy. Yes, incentive programs will be in place, but the biggest incentive is a better life for employees, less medication, more energy, and a greater overall sense of well being. You can’t put a price tag on that. Actually, in the corporate world, you can.

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