How to implement a wellness program to reduce employee heart disease
by Michael Alberico
December 21, 2016

Direct and indirect costs of cardiovascular diseases and stroke total more than $316.6 billion. That includes health expenditures and lost productivity. Cardiovascular disease also claims more lives than all forms of cancer combined. These statistics from the American Heart Association are not meant to be scary, but instead eye-opening for industries like construction, in which heart disease is more prevalent. Employers can no longer rely solely on employees to take the initiative when it comes to identifying and mitigating health risks like heart disease.

The United States has seen rising health and claim costs, which also directly impact productivity and incident rates. To help curb the trend, more emphasis is being placed on proactive measures with employers leading that charge. Organizations across the U.S. are turning to wellness programs as a way to not only lower the risk of heart disease and keep employees healthy, but to also reduce workers’ compensation insurance costs. Companies that provide wellness programs often find employees are happier and healthier resulting in fewer sick days and increased productivity.

Get Started

To implement a wellness program or a more proactive approach, one of the first goals should be to gain management support. Once management is on board, collect as much data as possible on the population of your workforce. Determining the needs and wants of your employees will allow your company to structure a successful wellness plan. Four ways to identify the key needs include:

  1. Health risk assessment
  2. Biometric screening
  3. Employee needs and interest survey
  4. Health culture audit

Health risk assessments and biometric screening data can demonstrate possible trends, such as obesity, high cholesterol, smoking or other risk factors that lead to heart disease, as well any overall areas for improvement. The company results can be paired with claims data and your health culture audit to establish benchmarks. Then, combine all this information with what your employees want based on their interest survey results. This is an opportunity to really listen to employees, understand what they are saying and implement programs based on their feedback. Before creating a committee and formalized program, it is important to lay out goals. Goals should be specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-specific. The goals should also reflect your data findings and the interests expressed by your workforce.

Build a Wellness Program

Once your company gathers information and establishes goals, start building a wellness program. Here are a few initial steps:

  1. Assemble a committee —Your wellness committee will be responsible for carrying out the goals, creating themes, integrating wellness into the company culture, promoting the program, planning activities, recruiting team leaders and conducting evaluations. The size of the group will depend on the size of your company and scope of the program or activities.
  2. Designate a coordinator —A wellness coordinator should be identified to manage the program. Although the committee and others can share some of the responsibilities, having the right person coordinating efforts increases the likelihood that the program will be well-managed and well-delivered.
  3. Develop an action plan —This should include specific objectives, strategies, a timeline, budget and evaluation plan. If your goals are clearly identified and an action plan is developed, it will be easier to evaluate the effectiveness of your wellness program.
  4. Invest accordingly —Monetary costs can fluctuate widely, depending on whether the employer pays all costs, the employees pay all costs or the costs are shared. The Wellness Council of America estimates the cost per employee to be between $100 and $150 per year for an effective wellness program that produces a return on investment of $300 to $450.

Make the Wellness Program Successful

A few key ways to make a wellness program successful include ensuring leadership is visible and leads by example. Another way is to incorporate wellness into the company culture. Employees need to feel ownership and see that your organization is serious about improving the health and well-being of the workforce, especially as it relates to heart disease. Also, be sure to incorporate a varied communication approach to show how the program will benefit each employee individually. Do not forget to define success. Since wellness programs are a long-term commitment, the value does not always impact the bottom line immediately. Make wellness fun by providing incentives and highlighting achievements.

Why Heart Disease?

Wellness programs and health screenings are great for catching and mitigating a number of health-related issues. However, heart disease is one area in particular that needs to be called out. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that 71 percent of construction workers were either obese or overweight, compared to 63 percent for all industries combined. The industry is also one of highest in terms of number of smokers and substance abusers. Weight and substance abuse are two common areas that can lead to some form of heart disease. The American Heart Association understands the risks within the industry and has a specific event called Hard Hats with Heart. This year, it was held September 8 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The networking event raised over $430,000 in its inaugural year.