The best workplace wellness programs are customized, comprehensive, integrated and diversified, according to new research from the Center for Studying Health System Change.
Those attributes can be seen in the programs of this year's Working Well Award winners.
The Health and Wellness Coalition of Wichita recognizes three employers each year that provide an environment that helps employees make healthy lifestyle changes. This year's honorees — Bombardier Learjet, the city of Derby and Start-Thinking — will be recognized Tuesday as part of the sixth annual Working Well Conference.
The conference is designed to help employers implement employee wellness programs on a limited budget.
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"It really is a way to help businesses obtain some tools that they can use in their workplace to really look at the whole picture of health and health care," said Debbie Williams, healthy community director for the coalition.
David Hunnicutt, president of the Wellness Councils of America, and Will Miller, a self-described therapist-minister-comedian, will be the keynote speakers. Breakout sessions will include topics such as collecting data to drive health efforts, enlisting CEO support, and choosing appropriate interventions.
The new research from the Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan policy research organization, was reported in July and includes these findings:
* Online health risk assessments and Web-based tools, with no individualized follow-up, are least likely to make an impact.
* Successful programs include senior leaders who communicate clearly and honestly about shared goals and responsibilities.
* Most say financial incentives are essential.
* Return on investment is uncertain and will come after several years, if at all.
* Programs are unlikely to have a lasting impact without changing the work environment and promoting a culture of health.
Here's a look at how this year's winners describe their programs.
Bombardier Learjet, large employer
Employees: About 2,300
Highlights: Financial incentives, along with support to help employees make healthy lifestyle changes.
Participation: The program started two years ago and has grown from about 25 percent participation to almost 40 percent.
Learjet's wellness program evolved from its safety program, said Troy Leinen, corporate benefits and human resources manager, and the realization that the two overlap.
"One of the main things we have done is to create a culture around wellness," he said.
Learjet tries to help employees realize what good health means to them, as individuals. That begins with basic health testing to provide objective data and an assessment consisting of about 20 questions. Participating in those two activities gives the employee $100 for a health savings or flexible spending account or in cash, as a taxable benefit.
Almost 40 percent of employees participate in the basic program, Leinen said. "We'd like to hit 70 percent" over three to five years.
The incentives go up to $250 a year for additional participation, in activities such as lunch-and-learn sessions, webinars, physical activity, healthy eating and BFit challenges, such as eating more fruits and vegetables. Learjet also participates in a Walk at Work Showdown with Cessna Aircraft employees.
Learjet employees have access to a wellness coach and experts in chronic disease management as well.
City of Derby, small employer
Employees: About 180
Highlights: Rewards for employees who participate in health and wellness activities. The credits can be used for merchandise.
Participation: 86 percent of employees have participated in at least one rewards program activity.
Derby has taken a diversified approach to wellness. "I think we realize there's not one solution for everybody," said Kristy Bansemer, public information officer and wellness committee coordinator.
Offerings include Weight Watchers at Work, a holiday weight maintenance challenge, a quarterly healthy snack day, a free 15-minute visit with a nutritionist and Vitality, the rewards program. It's offered through the city's health insurance plan.
In January 2009, every employee participating in Vitality got a Polar heart rate monitor, to help track physical activity. A Steppers Challenge to encourage more walking will begin in September and will include pedometers for participants.
On-site activities include Wii games, health risk assessments twice a year and walks and bicycle rides before, during and after work.
The real incentive is the Vitality program, Bansemer said. Participants must maintain a certain level of participation to receive insurance discounts; reaching higher levels earns additional credits. "That's the good part," she said, noting that she'd used her credits to purchase an iPod Touch recently.
Start-Thinking, most innovative
Employees: Three full-time; additional part-timers
Highlights: A company bicycle, walking meetings, group workouts.
Participation: Depends on schedules.
When Start-Thinking moved to its Old Town office 2 1/2 years ago, it took along its company bike and made it available for thought-clearing, around-the-block rides as well as errands. That morphed into a Thinking Fit campaign, said Kris Schindler, managing partner of the marketing, advertising and public relations firm.
Employees brainstormed ways they could "think fit" and decided to have internal meetings while walking "whenever we can," to promote brainstorming and creative thinking, she said. They vowed to replace "the junk" in the office with almonds, fruit and other healthier choices. They signed up for a Community Supported Agriculture share, to buy and eat more locally grown food.
And they signed on with Fitness With Robbie Ray, for group workouts and advice. Three times a week, on work time or right after work, employees work out together at Ray's facility at 535 S. St. Francis or outside in Old Town. The workouts allow them to laugh together and get to know each other in new ways as they get healthier, Schindler said.
Ray also had them keep food logs and drink more water — which means buying more toilet paper, Schindler joked. "But it's totally worth it," she said.