U.S. health care spending is expected to reach close to 19% of America’s gross domestic product by next year, and private sector leaders are taking the opportunity to unite and create a healthier employee base.

Major corporations share plenty of the same difficulties experienced by smaller companies when it comes to motivating employees to participate in wellness programs. Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America and member of a recently aligned group of corporate CEOs, says his company uses incentivizing measures to help employees maintain their health.

As an example, the financial institution offers a $500 credit toward annual medical plan premiums to employees who submit to a biometric screening and complete a wellness questionnaire.

Also see:Restaurant trade association sets course to rebuild employee engagement

The nine-member CEO council outlined what it considers the most effective wellness practices in a new report, Building Better Health: Innovative Strategies from America's Business Leaders. The recommendations stress many of the programs large companies already embrace, such as health screenings, weight and nutrition counseling, chronic disease management, and behavioral stress reduction.

Average participation rates of employees identified for inclusion in wellness programs, such as smoking cessation and disease management, have been low — less than 20% low — according to the study, published in partnership with the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Aetna, another council company on the council, says it has various programs in place to improve employee health. The insurance provider offers yoga sessions and mindfulness-based stress reduction classes that have shown proven reductions in stress levels and improvements in productivity. Mark Bertolini, chairman and CEO at Aetna, says the company saw a 69-minute increase in employee productivity and a 7% drop in health care costs.

The employer says workplace culture sets the tone for its employees. A supportive work environment, along with managers that reinforce a wellness strategy, will be key to keeping employees motivated and engaged, according to the report.

“Stress can have a significant impact on physical and mental health, so there is a strong need for programs that help people reduce stress as part of achieving their best health,” Bertolini says. He spoke Tuesday in Washington, D.C., alongside several other executives.

Also see: Leading CEOs partner to inspire wellness programs across all U.S. employers

“Today is about a call to action,” said Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent. It’s going to take a combined effort from what he calls “the golden triangle”: civil society, government and private business.

“When we have a healthier workforce, we have a healthier company, we can grow the company, we can hire more people,” he said. “It all connects in an ecosystem that makes so much sense. There’s so much low-hanging fruit that I’m just very excited about what this might mean in the months to come.”

“We’re not going to get embroiled in the policy making down the street, Verizon Communications CEO Lowell McAdam added, echoing Muhtar’s comments. Rather than a think-tank, “We are a ‘do-tank.’”

“Five percent of the U.S. population is driving a majority of health care costs,” he adds, and “[patients] are moving through a system in an unstructured way.” 

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