Corporate Health & Wellness: What Companies Should Really be Measuring

When you hear the phrase “company perks,” what comes to mind? Is it a Ping-pong table and happy hour? Perhaps it’s a free gym membership and on-site lunchtime fitness classes? What about testing your Vitamin D levels? That last one, while the odd-looking one in the bunch, is not out of the ordinary for employer groups working with us at WellnessFX. We should explain ourselves…

Credit: Instagram, @organikmtl

Credit: Instagram, @organikmtl

Employers these days are more mindful than ever of their employee population’s health and wellbeing. Wellness portals, CRM systems, and activity-tracking devices are taking on the employer space by storm, thanks to a record-breaking growth in digital health funding this past year.

A major factor driving interest in these digital health solutions – from the employer to the investor – is corporate America’s adjustment to the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), because employers (with 50 employees +) are required to offer healthcare coverage for all full-time employees – healthy or not. For employers where healthcare is self-funded, those companies with a healthier employee population will benefit from reduced overall claims. Unhealthy employees impact productivity, have higher healthcare costs, and take more sick days. Some stats from a recent Gallup poll reported:

  • $160 million – $24.2 billion: The annual cost to the U.S. in lost productivity due to absenteeism tied to poor health among agricultural workers and professionals.
  • $84 billion: The total yearly bill across 14 job types for lost productivity due to workers being above normal weight or having a history of chronic conditions.
  • $153 billion: For American workers in particular, the yearly cost of above-normal weight and other chronic conditions due to absenteeism is substantial across the entire U.S. workforce.

Obviously, unhealthy employees cost a lot. There’s no doubt that employers are 1) Aware of the correlation between poor health to a sub-par workforce, from productivity to talent retention to healthcare costs, and 2) Taking action. A study by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health found that  93 percent of companies plan to expand or maintain funding for their wellness program over the next three to five years.

Now let’s consider what is potentially being monitored in those next three to five years. Currently, companies are attuned to the practice of measuring what’s going in (ex. productivity, engagement in health programs offered, positive feedback and satisfaction survey responses), what’s going out (ex. reduced medical costs, absenteeism, and health-related productivity losses), and the impact thereof. Those are some valid indicators to help track participation and investment. Now let’s say Company X is aware that their healthcare costs are higher than they’d prefer to be paying. The natural progression for those seeking change in this situation would be to offer opportunities for all employees to manage their health. After building a free, on-site gym and providing a cafeteria stipend for choosing healthy options, Company X is still still not seeing improvement in their measurements. The amount of medical costs has not decreased, program engagement in such initiatives as step contests and weight loss challenges is low, and perhaps there is still a steady rise in health-related absences. It’s time to ask: What’s the root cause of those sick days?

Finding the Why: A Tale of Two Companies
We’ve worked with many employers – from Fortune 100 Best Companies to large, high-performance employers – that are looking to empower their employees to take control of their health and cultivate a workplace that fosters a culture of health and wellness. For example, Weebly offers each employee access to two free annual WellnessFX blood draws, which provides a personalized assessment of a user’s blood chemistry and then breaks down the health data in easy-to-understand charts. These employee blood screenings produce aggregate reporting & analytics*, which we’ve then been able to leverage to find meaningful trends that are quite telling of each organization’s specific population regarding health. In the real life case of two different companies we worked with, we discovered these standout statistics:

  • Company 1 (a large Fortune 50 company): 75% ApoB risk (a protein that causes bad cholesterol to clog blood vessels)

  • Company 2 (SMB): 79% had Vitamin D deficiency, which can be associated with many health issues (cardiovascular, immune, depression, etc.)

Note that Company 1 found the largest health risk to be cholesterol (ApoB), which is correctable through increased activity and exercise, decreased intake of saturated fats and processed simple carbohydrates such as sugar, and avoiding smoking. Company 2, on the other hand, discovered one of their largest health risks to be a widespread Vitamin D deficiency, which is correctable through sunlight, diet, and supplementation.

What does this mean for these companies…and many more?
When it comes to tracking what affects the bottom line, it is a missed opportunity to not dig that one step deeper to discover the Why and uncover your population’s individual health risk trends. It goes so much further beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to getting “healthier employees.” Now that Company 1 and 2 both know the specific – and different – health risks of their own population, they now have the information needed to actually impact absenteeism/productivity, and their health and wellness initiatives can be tailored to address the problem and subsequently use their health and wellness budget effectively. Plus, company 1, whose healthcare is self-funded, will benefit from reduced overall claims in their employee population.

So what is the right blend of corporate health and wellness solutions? Is it a color coded salad bar? Is it HRAs and HSA/FSA contributions? Is it a step contest and cash incentives for getting a flu shot? Yes. It could be any of these things – but just as each individual needs to understand what they are managing before they try to measure it, companies need to have a deeper knowledge of their employee population’s health risk trends in order to be in a position to effectively utilize their health and wellness initiatives and reduce overall costs.

* WellnessFX is HIPAA compliant

The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.