Pursuit Of Wellness

Healthier and Happier

How to help your clients boost the bottom line with wellness programs

by Pam Jenkins

Ms. Jenkins is the assistant vice president for product development at Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company. Visit coloniallife.com

Deadlines. Conflicting priorities. Difficult co-workers. I think we can agree there’s plenty of potential for a little stress in the workplace. What you might not realize is how many people are showing up at work already significantly stressed out – and it’s costing your clients millions of dollars.

A new survey of U.S. consumers by Colonial Life showed more than 40 percent of workers battle high to moderate stress. The same number of employees say stress makes them less productive and 33 percent say it reduces their engagement at work. In fact, more than one in five – 22 percent – say they spend more than five hours of work time every week worrying. That’s five hours when they’re not getting much done, or possibly making mistakes because they’re distracted by constant nagging thoughts.

What are they worried about? The big buckets are money and health – their own, or the health of a spouse, partner or children. That might not be surprising, but it’s also not completely unavoidable. That’s because there are products, services and resources you can bring your clients to help employees improve their wellbeing and avoid or at least better deal with stress. And if you want to cement your standing as an invaluable, full-service benefits expert, it pays to understand what’s available to meet your clients’ needs. Just as importantly, it might also require a mind-shift to help you position wellness solutions as an essential part of your portfolio and your clients’ benefits program.

A healthier workforce saves money

The results of a successful wellness program can be measured in fewer sick days, reduced occurrences of preventable chronic conditions, a more positive work environment, increased productivity and higher employee retention rates due to improved morale. Estimates vary, but studies generally show a return of at least three-to-one for every dollar a company invests in a wellness program.

A healthier workforce also helps the bottom line by stemming the constantly rising costs of health care for both your clients and their employees. Healthier employees spend less on doctor’s office co-pays, prescriptions and other treatments that may not be covered by medical insurance until they meet their deductibles. For example, look at weight control. Employees with a healthy weight incur far lower medical expenses: 42 percent less than those whose weight is considered obese.

Speaking of sick days, the Centers for Disease Control estimates a $225.8 billion cost to employers — an average of $1,685 per employee — in productivity losses linked to missed work days. And people going to work when they’re sick account for nearly two-thirds of the total cost of worker illness. This negatively impacts not only productivity, but also morale. And the cycle continues.

Four components of employee wellbeing

A comprehensive, effective employee wellness program covers much more than helping employees prevent colds, lose weight and stop smoking. Wellbeing encompasses physical, financial, mental and emotional health. These areas of wellbeing also overlap and interact: Remember our survey showed money is one of the top causes of employee stress, and that stress that can lead to physical health problems.

True, many employers do focus on physical health, or at least tackle it first. An Optum survey of employers showed 56 percent have made changes to their workplace environment, mostly centered on getting employees to eat better and move more. Top changes included healthier food in vending machines and cafeterias, onsite fitness centers, ergonomic programs and banning smoking. And employers that have committed to healthy onsite environments reported significantly better results for increasing employee retention (61 percent compared to 23 percent for employers that haven’t made changes), improving engagement (58 percent versus 29 percent) and increasing productivity (56 percent versus 28 percent).
You may be thinking all this sounds great if my clients were all larger companies with significant budgets to invest in wellness. But very few have the resources to build a new gym on site, for example.

The good news is they don’t have to. There are many wellness-related benefits you can bring to your clients to help ensure a healthier, happier, more productive workforce. And many are available at low or no cost from your benefits partners, especially if you’re bringing them a new account or can ensure optimal enrollment conditions.

Pad your portfolio with wellness benefits

  • Start thinking of wellness programs as essential products your clients should include in their benefits packages. Here are some of the top wellness programs and services they should consider to cover all four aspects of wellbeing — and again, many of these come with a low or no price tag for either your clients or their employees:
  • Wellness benefits embedded in insurance plans. Some voluntary coverages such as cancer policies include wellness benefits that pay a set amount for preventive screening tests such as colonoscopies, mammograms and X-rays. This helps catch potential problems earlier, when they’re easier and less expensive to treat. The benefits paid for annual screening tests also make the coverage even more affordable, in effect reducing the net cost of the premiums for employees. The benefit is paid even if the exam is covered by health insurance and the amount doesn’t depend on the actual cost of the test.
  • Telemedicine. This increasingly popular service provides access to board-certified doctors online or by phone, any time of the day or day of the week. It’s not designed to handle emergency conditions or replace a primary care doctor, but it can often substitute for a doctor’s office or urgent care visit for common conditions such as the flu or pink eye — saving employees valuable time and money.
  • Discounts on drugs and medical services. A discount program helps employees save money on doctor office visits, prescription drugs, vision and hearing products and services, lab work and imaging tests. Even if your client already offers a health or prescription drug plan, a discount program can complement it by helping pay for services that are limited or not covered, especially with a high-deductible health plan that leaves employees with considerable financial exposure to out-of-pocket costs.
  • Identity monitoring and restoration. Nearly 60 million Americans were affected by identity theft last year, according to a Harris Poll survey reported on LifeLock.com — four times the number reported just a year earlier. Identity theft protection provides identity monitoring and helps employees with the burden of recovering from identity theft, and may include a dedicated case manager to act on the victim’s behalf and resolve the issue. Some packages even include a service to make lost wallet replacement quick and easy.
  • Financial education. Many of America’s workers don’t understand basic financial concepts, according to a survey by GoBankingRates.com. A financial education program can include access to online calculators, budgeting tools, videos and webinars, plus unlimited access to complimentary financial coaching by phone.
  • Student loan reimbursement support. Many recent graduates are spending a large percentage of their disposal income on student loan repayment. Some studies show millennials are more interested in student loan help than health care or retirement funding. And because of debt obligations, millennials are prone to job-hopping in search of extra income. Some programs allow employees to manage their student loan burden, refinance their debt or help find creative ways to pay down the burden. Employers who are really interested in keeping millennial employees engaged and on staff are even able to contribute to employees’ student loan debt payment.
  • Employee assistance programs. EAPs provide short-term counseling and referral services to help employees with personal and family issues and work/life balances. Services typically include in-person, phone or online counseling and other online tools and educational resources that help with everyday life and decisions. Some carriers include EAPs in their insurance plans (such as term life) to offer additional benefits and incentives to purchase.

They don’t get what they don’t get

Even the best wellness programs won’t deliver the results you promise and your clients expect — unless employees see their value and choose to participate in them. You can help drive stronger engagement with wellness programs by implementing a strong education and communication plan as part of the enrollment. (By the way, this holds true for all benefits, not just wellness.)

By implement, I really mean partner. Connect with a top benefits carrier that offers a full slate of enrollment services, including personalized benefits education and one-to-one benefits counseling. Consistent wellness messaging, delivered in a variety of methods that work best for each client’s workplace, will help employees better understand the importance of wellness and how it can improve their lives — and save them money.

Wellness programs are nothing to stress over. You can create stronger client relationships and expand your business by bringing these solutions to your clients of all sizes. Encouraging them to take advantage of easily available wellness programs and services can help them save money and create a happier, more productive workforce. ◊




Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company is a market leader in providing financial protection benefits through the workplace, including disability, life, accident, dental, cancer, critical illness and hospital confinement indemnity insurance. The company’s benefit services and education, innovative enrollment technology and personal service support 90,000 businesses and organizations, and 4.5 million of America’s workers and their families. For more information visit www.coloniallife.com or connect with the company at www.facebook.com/coloniallifebenefits, www.twitter.com/coloniallife and www.linkedin.com/company/colonial-life. Colonial Life is a registered trademark and marketing brand of Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company.