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Encourage Wellness to Cut Workers’ Compensation Costs

Encourage Wellness to Cut Workers’ Compensation Costs

Updated June 9, 2021 Originally published September 22, 2016
Danny Sanchez, PT, CEAS

Wellness programs can cut compensation costs

There is no shortage of evidence that wellness programs work. They work to save companies money on workers’ compensation costs. They work to save companies money on health insurance costs. And they work to create healthier, happier employees. In other words, everyone wins when companies take steps to encourage wellness.It’s one thing to create safety programs. Preventing job-related accidents and illnesses is crucial. You want to protect your employees. And keep work production moving forward. But we now know all-around good health enables people to work more safely. And more productively. So promoting wellness promotes safety and boosts your bottom line.

Let’s Look at Some of the Evidence

Back in 2009, a company in Illinois started a wellness program. The company is a civil engineering firm with 108 employees. They achieved a 10:1 return on investment within two years. They found most employees were excited to participate.

Since then, there have been many studies on the impact of wellness programs.

The Institute for HealthCare Consumerism says, “For many companies, health costs use up 50 percent or more of their corporate profits. In fact, the indirect costs of poor health, such as absence from work and reduced work productivity, can result in two or three times the amount of direct medical costs.” They cite wellness program benefits described in the 2012 Aflac WorkForces Report:

  • 35% of employees said they would change lifestyle habits to reduce health insurance costs
  • 28% of employees said opportunities to improve their health and lifestyle would boost their job satisfaction
  • 92% of companies with programs said their program is effective
  • 44% of companies with programs have been able to reduce health insurance premiums
  • 61% of companies say their workforce is healthier

The Institute quotes another study that concluded “companies that implemented an effective wellness program realized significant cost reductions and financial gains.” Some examples:

  • 28% fewer sick days
  • 26% lower health costs
  • 30% fewer workers’ comp and disability management claims
  • Average savings of $5.93 for every $1 spent

And yet another 2012 study showed companies with wellness programs:

  • Saved an average of $2,554 per workers’ comp claim
  • Saved an average $451 per short-term disability claim
  • Reduced workers’ comp lost time by 9 days
  • Reduced short-term disability lost time by 17 days
  • Saved an average 6% on annual medical costs

How Can Your Company Encourage Wellness?

No program will work if your people don’t participate. So wellness has to be a joint effort between employers and employees. There are almost unlimited options for program activities. They may be enticing on their own. But many companies include incentives in their programs. Employers like incentives because they do boost participation. Workers like them, too. Who doesn’t appreciate being rewarded for doing the right thing?

As an employer, you have to be careful here. Rewards should encourage participation, not punish those who don’t join in. Some employers have resorted to negative “incentives.” For example, they require all employees to undergo health screenings. Those who don’t meet certain standards are required to participate in wellness programs. One company offered program participants a discount on health insurance premiums. But only when they could meet specific body mass and other “healthy” metrics.

These may seem like good ideas. You’re trying to motivate employees to work toward a healthier future. But coercion is not likely to generate the kind of excitement you want. Disgruntled employees could poison your program instead of promoting it to co-workers. Some positive incentives you could offer instead include:

  • Cash bonuses, either for participation in general or for reaching specific personal health goals
  • Gift certificates
  • Pedometers or other tools to monitor progress
  • Gym memberships (or reimbursement)

If you want to offer discounted health insurance premiums as an incentive, be aware there are new EEOC rules that govern this.

What other elements should your wellness program include? Whatever appeals to your employees. Here are some ideas that have worked for other companies, large and small.

Educational programs:

  • Literature, workshops and “lunch and learn” sessions
  • Health screenings
  • Stop-smoking, weight management and stress reduction classes
  • Nutrition classes (and emphasizing healthy food choices in vending machines, employee cafeteria, meeting snacks, etc.)

 Group activities:

  • Pre-shift stretching
  • Exercises
  • Walking

The “how” starts with formal policies. You’ll need leadership commitment and visible support. Without this, programs are far less likely to succeed. Create committees to solicit employee input and participation. Incorporate wellness promotion into your company culture. Implement hiring practices that focus on “fit for work.” And use a tracking system to monitor progress and measure ROI.

Plan to go wild with programming during May. It’s Employee Health & Fitness Month.

PhysNet is your Employee Wellness Partner

We offer “preventive medicine” for companies and their employees. And we do that in three different ways.

  1. Post-offer employment testing.

Job-specific testing allows you to people you know are able to perform the required tasks safely. That helps prevent injuries from occurring in the first place. And that’s how you reduce worker’s comp claims and costs. Post-offer employment testing (POET) occurs only after you have offered someone a job. It’s like a final “double check” to be sure they understand what the job entails physically. And that they can do the work safely.

Studies show companies that use POET have 47% fewer workers’ comp injuries. And their employee retention is triple that of companies that don’t use POET.*

  1. On-site prevention programs

Teaching people to work safer is an essential part of any wellness program. PhysNet’s injury prevention experts work with clients to create customized training and improvement programs. These can include:

  • Ergonomic assessments
  • Job demand analyses
  • Job coaching and shadowing
  • Job-tailored stretching and exercise sessions
  • Group training sessions
  • Webinars for employees

Prevention programs help you reduce workers’ comp costs and lost time. Equally important, they build employee teamwork, productivity and morale. 

  1. On-site physical therapy

Sometimes, in spite of everyone’s best efforts, workers get injured. Then everyone’s goal is to get that person back to work as soon as possible. On-site physical therapy is proven to do that:

  • It’s more convenient. Therapy sessions take place at the jobsite, not a third-party clinic. Physical therapists schedule sessions directly with patients. That’s faster and boosts compliance.
  • It’s more effective. Physical therapists work one-on-one with each patient, for the entire session. And treatment is geared exactly to the worker’s job tasks and environment. The result is faster, more relevant healing. Even better, workers learn how to perform their job in a safer manner in the future. That helps prevent repeat injuries.
  • You save money and retain vital productivity. No more travel costs associated with visits to physical therapy clinics. Fewer lost days because workers return to work sooner.

Companies with healthy employees have lower health insurance costs. Employees who are healthy can work safer. That reduces workers’ comp claims and costs. They are happier with their lives, and happier with their employer for supporting their good health. That increases productivity, job satisfaction and worker retention. The more your company does to encourage wellness, the more you have to gain. 

* Anderson C, Briggs J. A study the effectiveness of ergonomically based functional screening tests and their relationship to reducing worker compensation injuries. Work. 2008; 31(1):27-37

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