I don't mean to brag (OK, maybe I do just a little), but health insurance premiums for Kalamazoo County, Mich., employees didn't increase this year - not one penny.
Even better, our dental and vision premiums actually dropped. So what's our secret? The key is a healthy employee population, thanks in large part to our wellness program.
We are in the fifth year of our wellness program. We've discovered through experience that a successful program takes leadership support, empowered employees and the right wellness consultants, coaches and communication partners.
Our wellness journey began in 2006. Back then, we wrestled with ever-increasing health care costs, and wanted to rein in those costs for our employees and the county's bottom line. We had a bare-bones wellness program, but weren't seeing measurable results.
I realized I was kidding myself if I thought the county could do wellness, and do it right, on our own.
We needed expert help, so we turned to health promotion consulting group Holtyn & Associates, LLC, which provides program development and consulting, biometrics screenings, one-on-one coaching, reporting and follow-up. Holtyn provided everything we thought we would need and more.
When I approached the County Commission and Administration about wellness as a way to positively impact benefit costs, I received their full support.
The leadership backing was critical to create the necessary culture for wellness to work. Employees have greater buy-in when they know it's a management priority.
With leadership go-ahead, the HR department worked with Holtyn to create a wellness team comprised of employees from various departments. Empowering employees gives them ownership of the program.
Once the program was in place, communication became paramount. We needed to get the word out about programs, but there was more to it than that. Other messages could reinforce and expand on what we wanted to accomplish.
We discovered that it takes a mix of media - both print and electronic - with simple suggestions presented in fun and engaging ways, so employees don't just "get" what they need to do, they "want" to do it. We've partnered with an experienced, innovative company that specializes in easy-to-read, print and electronic health and lifestyle content.
Our communications partner has developed creative, effective ways to reach and inspire our employees.
Currently, 82% of eligible employees participate, exceeding the best practice standard of 75%. One of the first questions new employees ask during orientation is how soon can they join the program.
Employees continue to make dramatic lifestyle improvements. The decline in sedentary behavior is significant. The latest survey showed 91% of participants were active.
There are numerous testimonials that give life to these numbers, such as the one from the weight-management participant who had never run in her life before she joined the class. She went on to run in the Chicago Marathon and now serves on the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness.
The county is seeing more employees with fewer lifestyle risk factors. In October 2006, 48% of employees had low or no lifestyle risk factors. By October 2010, the percentage had increased to 64%. That's powerful. It's hard to put a price tag on a heart attack that hasn't happened.
I don't want to give the impression that it's easy to put a program like this together, but nothing worthwhile is.
If you're smart about how you approach wellness, if you get support from leadership, empower employees and find the right program and communication partners, the results can be amazing.
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