Tag Archives: employee health

How Long Commutes Impact Workplace Productivity
20th February 2018 by Fringe Benefits in General

What do all employees have in common? They all have a burning dislike for their morning commute! Let’s face it, it’s not the actual commute that most people dislike, it’s the hassle of dealing with traffic, long lines, and rude people that make the trip so despised.

It doesn’t matter how an employee gets to work — whether it’s by car, train, plane, boat, or just walking, there’s always one or more aspects of a long commute that a person would like to change. How an employee starts the day is an important indicator of his or her attitude for the rest of that day.

You know the ad that proclaims 15 minutes could save you 15% by switching to some insurance? Well, I cut my commute time in half by switching my car’s horn from a beep to sounding like a machine gun. At least I wish I did. My former commute to work was 70 miles each way. While the traffic was always light, that commute still extracted a fair amount of energy from me due to the time spent on the road. Luckily for me, my supervisor allowed me to work from home two days a week.

Managers need to determine what an employee needs to be the most productive while at work. Some things are within their control such as having the best equipment, providing the most up-to-date training, or even a supplying a kick-start of coffee or a snack. However, there are a plethora of items outside their control that can disrupt productivity such as the need for eight hours of sleep, family issues, or even a particularly grueling commute. According to a recent Gallup poll, fourteen percent of all American workers report they spend at least 45 minutes getting to work. Gallup found that commutes of this length are linked to poorer overall wellbeing, daily mood, and health.

If a manager doesn’t have to endure the horrors of a long and demanding commute, it might be difficult for that person to understand the impact it has on an employee’s productivity and overall morale. Considering that the average worker spends five weeks a year commuting, it’s easy to see how someone might not feel motivated when he or she reaches the workplace.

Fortunately, restoring motivation in an employee with a lengthy commuting is relatively easy. That being said, it takes a manager who is willing to make compromises, have a fair amount of trust in his or her employees, and the necessary equipment — or the ability to lay the groundwork — to let them telecommute if the situation arises.

“Commuting can be a major challenge for employees,” says Jason Reeves, MBA, Director of Survey at United Benefit Advisors. “Employers can ease this burden by allowing telecommuting and flexible work schedules to take the burden off of long commutes during the rush hour.”

There is no doubt that a manager assumes a small amount of risk when letting an employee work from home, but if that manager is confident in the employee’s work ethic, then there should not be a reason to worry. In fact, most employees who telecommute report that they actually work harder from home than they do in the office because they felt like they had to “prove themselves” to their colleagues and show that they were pulling their weight.

When telecommuting is not an option, there are plenty of small changes in the workplace that can be made to help ease the pressure on workers who commute long distances:

  • Allow commuting employees to work one day a week from home. The break from the commute will ease their stress and show them that you understand their situation.
  • If employees primarily take public transportation as a way to get to work, then count one hour toward their time in the office as long as they use a laptop or other device to do job-related functions.
  • Have flexible office hours so that employees can arrive, work an appropriate amount of time, then leave so as to avoid both morning and evening rush hours.
  • Offer support (such as moving expenses, paid time off, etc.) to workers who are willing to relocate closer to the office.

Finally, be sympathetic. An employee may not have a choice when it comes to their commute and a little understanding can go a long way in making that person feel as though someone understands their morning struggle.

©Copyright 2018 by Geoff Mukhtar, Communications Manager at United Benefit Advisors.  Reproduction permitted with attribution to the author.

Wellness Checkup
13th February 2018 by Fringe Benefits in General

The CDC estimates that 75 percent of healthcare costs come from 117 million people with one or more chronic health conditions. For employers, this can mean paying an annual average of $12,000 per employee on healthcare costs, according to a study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. In recent years, many employers have gotten on board with wellness programs to mitigate that cost and to bolster employee morale, concentration and overall health—but how well do these programs actually work?

According to Robin Marcus, chief wellness officer and physical therapist for the University of Utah Health Sciences, the answer depends on what your definition of “work” is.

“There’s been a lot in lay literature in the last couple of years talking about how wellness doesn’t work,” says Marcus. “When you ask people ‘does wellness work?’ it really does depend on what outcome you’re looking at.”

Dollars and Sense

If what your company wants is to lower healthcare costs, the prevailing theory is this: Set up a wellness program, get your employees to be healthier and healthcare costs will go down. It seems like common sense—but the truth is the financial return on investment for wellness programs may not be that simple.

“There’s a raging debate around this notion of ROI,” says Michael Cochran, director of health and productivity at Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah. “The Holy Grail has tended to be reductions in medical costs—if not reductions, then reducing [the healthcare cost] trend down a few percentage points.”

Cochran believes the financial ROI for companies can be as much as 3:1 and cites a 2012 meta-evaluation of worksite wellness initiatives by Larry S. Chapman at the American Journal of Health Promotion. The study examines 62 peer-reviewed articles on workplace health promotion with a total of 546,971 subjects involved and concludes that “the summary evidence continues to be strong with average reductions in sick leave, health plan costs and workers’ compensation and disability insurance costs of around 25 percent.”

For the companies who don’t see this trend, Cochran believes their wellness programs haven’t been around long enough to realize those benefits—or that their metrics simply aren’t measuring the right values. The Chapman study mentions that more than two-thirds of the included studies examined savings “limited to a single economic variable” and that they arrived at their ROI calculation by simply dividing that savings by the entire program cost. Doing metrics this way, according to Chapman, understates the economic impact (and value) of wellness programs.

Marcus and Cochran both say there’s a misconception among most companies that the financial savings from their wellness programs should be immediate—and that they tend to ignore other returns on investment.

“We think that wellness programs should lower healthcare costs,” says Marcus. “There are companies that say that they do, but there are others that say that they don’t. But maybe these people are looking at different things. If you are looking at decreased costs, unless you follow people for a very long time, you may not see a ROI.”

Therein lies the problem with most wellness programs—oftentimes the scope of the metrics is too narrow to see their true value. The Chapman article says that “the ideal would be for each study to examine health plan cost, sick leave cost, workers’ compensation cost, disability management and presenteeism cost effects.”

Wellness programs at their best do not just deliver a financial ROI—they offer benefits to the employees and the company at large in other forms just as valuable.

“There is increased value to the employer if you look at measures like improved presenteesim, decreased absenteeism, increased productivity,” says Marcus. “People can do more in less time. The same wellness program that we might [have implemented] to decrease healthcare costs—if you’re looking at these outcomes—you’re more likely to see a more immediate ROI.”

A Culture of Health

Employees want wellness programs. A survey conducted by the Survey Sampling International revealed that 71 percent of consumers want their employer to offer some wellness or health management program. Furthermore, the Society for Human Resource Management found that 72 percent of organizations offering wellness programs found them effective.

“There’s one more group of outcomes that wellness is really good for and has a higher ROI. And that is the value to the employee,” says Marcus. “The value to the employee is like increased engagement in their work, happiness, greater creativity, increased attraction to the employer—which makes it easier for [the employer] to recruit and retain employees. They’re happier, they’re engaged. That type of ROI from a wellness program is probably the highest.”

Oftentimes, companies looking to implement wellness programs are happy to do a health risk assessment, slap up some educational material on a website and call it a day. Most wellness providers are quick to say the same thing—that approach alone does not create what a wellness program should: a corporate culture of health.

CHG Healthcare Services rolled out its wellness program eight years ago with a weight loss program. While the program created camaraderie and friendly competition between the workers, Nicole Thurman, senior director of talent management, says it was the least effective thing the company did in terms of wellness achievement.

“People gained [the weight] right back,” says Thurman. “So we decided to take a different approach by having a wellness program to allow our employees an opportunity for wellness.”

CHG looked at value to its employees and their own financial goals, and decided to invest in having an onsite healthcare clinic. Having high-quality healthcare on premise allows CHG employees to cultivate relationships with primary care physicians and reduces their need to access the outside healthcare system.

“We knew that we would achieve cost savings through our clinic. Nobody has to go to Urgent Care for a bad cough; they can go downstairs. It’s not $300 to 400 [per visit]—it’s wholesale for us,” says Thurman. “We save the differential. That’s an ER visit that got missed. When we add up all those cost savings, because we’re deferring the visits, it pays for our health initiative.”

Other measures that have worked for companies are incentivized programs, where employees can get a discount on their health insurance premiums for hitting certain goals, attending health education sessions or engaging in preventative care. Whether the employee is healthy or has a preexisting health condition that requires management is irrelevant—the healthy employee can get incentives for reaching fitness goals and the employee with the health condition can reach their incentives for adhering to a disease management program.

Other features like a company gym or sponsored hikes, walks and runs are also popular.

Thurman adds that in order for wellness programs to work, a high trust index must exist between the employer and employee. “Our employees do believe we care about them and are trying to do right by them,” she says.

For Sunwarrior, a St. George-based health food company, threading a culture of health into the company’s fibers is paramount to success. Sunwarrior rolled out a nine-month wellness challenge complete with personalized meal and fitness plans. Of Sunwarrior’s 49 employees, 46 of them have taken the challenge.

“We want to stress a healthy lifestyle,” says Susanna Kalnes, representative for Sunwarrior.  “This makes a positive message for the company as a whole. A lot of the employees are already into health and wellness, but they don’t follow it as closely as they like.”

Following more closely seems to have plenty of benefits to employer and employee alike—so long as you know what you’re looking at.

“Do [wellness programs] result in a lower healthcare cost? That’s one way of looking at it, but these other things are just as important to employees,” says Marcus. “There are a lot of benefits to happy employees—and there’s a fair amount of literature that suggests wellness contributes to happier employees.”

©Copyright 2018 by Utah Business.com  Reproduction permitted with attribution to the author.