Ring Power Corporation, based in St. Augustine, Fla., is paying employees to lose weight, and is covering expenses for employees who want to quit smoking at all of its locations. The company's wellness program is based on current research which suggests that employers receive approximately $3 for every $1 they invest in employee wellness.
Ring Power, a Caterpillar dealer, implemented its wellness program in April and more than 500 employees have participated in it, according to Christy Undset, employee relations specialist.
"The participation not only for the weight loss program, but for the smoking cessation program as well was completely overwhelming. It really showed us that there are a lot of people who are thinking about their health."
The program was a response to rising healthcare costs, which have forced companies to find new ways to keep employees healthy.
"We needed to provide innovative services to enhance our employees' well-being to prevent illnesses or injuries before they occur," Undset said.
After consulting with a nutritionist, the plan was set to offer incentives over the span of a year.
"We don't want to have employees lose the weight at an unhealthy pace," Undset said.
Employees who meet four quarterly goals will receive $500 over the course of the year. Employees must lose 5 percent of their body weight in the first quarter and 3 percent each subsequent quarter.
Ring Power also is paying $25 a month to employees who join a gym and $40 a month to employees who enlist in a weight loss program such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, or Nutrisystem.
All costs associated with smoking cessation programs are being paid for by the company.
Ring Power is not the first to implement a wellness program. Healthcare spending in the United States reached $2 trillion in 2005 and will reach $4 trillion by 2015 according to The National Coalition on Healthcare. This has motivated many companies to seek wellness programs as a way to save on healthcare expenses.
"A major concern of most companies and employees right now is of course the amount of money being spent on healthcare," Undset said.
But there's another factor as well. "Some research shows that presenteeism — reduced on-the-job worker productivity due to poor health — was a greater cost to the employer than disability, absenteeism and healthcare costs combined."
That's because employees are much less productive when they are suffering from headaches, allergies and other ailments, according to Ron Goetzel, a researcher at Cornell University.
Wellness programs, like the one at Ring Power, are aimed at reducing the impact of preventable illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and lung cancer.
"To prevent illnesses or injuries before they occur costs less than to treat them after they occur for both the employee and employer," Undset said. "We hope to encourage behavioral changes that will promote overall good health."
Other companies are implementing similar programs. A June 2005 survey by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions and the ERISA Industry Committee found that 62 percent of large companies have some type of wellness program.
Caterpillar has won awards for its Healthy Balance Program, which provides employees with phone assistance, health screenings, health information and incentives to improve health.
John Deere's program provides workout centers, weight management and tobacco cessation to its employees and Hitachi is providing health counseling and an employee assistance program.
"Wellness is going to stick around, this is not just a corporate 'trend'," Undset said. "This is just the beginning. We can only hope for more great things to come out of our wellness program for both the employees and the company." CEG Staff
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