Wellness efforts are a core business strategy, the president of the Wellness Council of America said Tuesday in Wichita.
But most companies say "we need to start doing wellness activities" then launch a walking program with balloons in the parking lot. And that won't produce results, David Hunnicutt told those at the sixth annual Working Well Conference.
The conference focuses on best practices of workplace wellness programs; Hunnicutt was a keynote speaker.
Programs that get results have seven benchmarks, Hunnicutt said, and start with the support of the CEO.
"It's not really that hard of a sell," he said. "They're going to get it" because of rising health care costs.
But most CEOs don't know what their roles should be, he said, suggesting that an eight-week senior-level "boot camp" is a good way to start a program, so a company's executives understand it.
A CEO who shares his struggles while trying to quit smoking or a CFO who finds out his blood pressure is 200 over 100 and decides to do something about it can get other employees to say, "If you can do it, I can do it," he said.
Hunnicutt also stressed the importance of data, gathered through health risk appraisals.
Without knowing the percentage of employees who are at low, moderate or high risk of problems, he said, "you're flying blind."
Getting employees to complete appraisals takes communication, he said. Employees should know that the appraisal will be confidential and that it will provide valuable information for the employee as well as for the company.
Incentives will increase participation, he said. Ten percent will participate for a water bottle or T-shirt, 35 to 40 percent will for a $15 to $20 gift card, and 50 to 60 percent will for $25 to $50 in cash.
Few companies get to the 80 or 90 percent range, he said, and 50 percent participation is enough to show trends.
He said appraisal results should be shared with employees, individually and companywide. Those at high risk should be told, "Not to worry. We want you to get the health care you need."
Hunnicutt gave these other suggestions for setting up successful wellness programs:
* Programs that encourage walking 30 to 45 minutes a day and consuming 100 fewer calories a day — the equivalent of a slice of cheese on a sandwich — can produce results that will affect nearly all chronic health conditions.
* It will take a couple of years for changes in risk factors to show up, and four to five years for health care costs to change.
* A company's wellness program can't be left to one person, because if that person leaves, the program fails.
* Wellness teams need to have diverse members — and need to include people who aren't currently "healthy."
Hunnicutt said the Wellness Council of America offers a range of materials to help companies at its website: www.welcoa.org.