Celebrating a decade of recognition for northeast Wisconsin’s top employer-based wellness programs
Story by Rick Berg and Sean Fitzgerald
When B2B introduced the idea to recognize northeast Wisconsin employers for their efforts to improve employee health a decade ago, the goals were simple – share best practices that other neighboring employers might easily replicate, and create an exciting, competitive environment across the region to encourage employer excellence in wellness programming.
Ten years later and both goals have availed themselves. During that time New North B2B has recognized more than 20 employers from Fond du Lac to Green Bay for their efforts to be innovative in helping employees become healthier, using health care more sensibly, and ultimately driving down health insurance cost increases. Dozens of other companies who didn’t receive our Alla tua Salute! Award – from the Italian for “to your health” – have adopted many of the best characteristics of the winning wellness plans they’ve read about in the pages of New North B2B.
But we can’t take all the credit. Health care continues to progressively increase as a cost of doing business as well as an increasing family budgeting expense for individual employees. And many experts believe the trend may not peak until well after the federal Affordable Care Act is fully implemented.
Positively, though, employer-based wellness programs have matured from an obscure benefit only offered by the wealthiest of corporations to become a relatively common fixture that any workplace – small or large, office or industrial – can afford to incorporate and still discover a return on investment at the end of the day.
In this 10th year of B2B’s Alla tua Salute! Corporate Wellness Awards in 2015, which are sponsored by Menasha-based Network Health, two new employers are recognized for their outstanding wellness efforts, as well as another accolade for a previous recipient of the award, N.E.W. Plastics Corp. of Luxemburg.
“N.E.W. Plastics has evolved into one of the more involved wellness programs that I think we’ve ever looked at as a committee,” said David Brand, an employee benefits specialist with Appleton-based Valley Insurance Associates and the longest serving member of our wellness awards panel, going back to the very first year of the award in 2006.
Each of our award winners in 2015 have a dynamic story to tell about the improvement of their employees’ health, as well as the improvement in attitude toward health and wellness.
Keep on improving
Joining the ranks of just a handful of employers who’ve been multiple year winners of B2B’s Alla tua Salute! honors, Luxemburg-based N.E.W. Plastics’ pedigree of wellness just keeps getting better and better. The custom plastic injection blow molding manufacturer of packaging containers and components previously won a Leadership In Wellness Award from our panel in 2013.
This past year, N.E.W. Plastics’ low-risk population climbed from 20 percent to 44 percent of the workforce, while its high-risk group fell from 30 percent down to 14 percent, cited as ‘ideal’ by wellness panelist Mark Geiger, a regional wellness supervisor with Network Health.
“They had a really impressive shift in what I call their ‘risk-level stratification,’” Geiger said. “When we offer wellness programs to our groups, we usually see a shift, but not to this extreme. This is a really nice improvement in the amount of (health) risk their employees have.”
Employees on the company’s group health insurance plan aren’t required to take a health risk assessment. But 100 percent of those employees do take the HRA, as well as do some employees who receive their health insurance elsewhere. That’s because a lucrative incentive for good health provides lots of encouragement, said N.E.W. Plastics President Mike Rekitzke.
“We put enough value on it that it makes it worthwhile for the employees to do it,” Rekitzke said. Employees scoring in the low-risk category on their HRA – or those scoring in medium to high categories who follow a designated plan of health improvement – qualify for an annual rebate that can amount to between $100 to $200. The rebate is paid out in a lump sum in December, just before the holidays when it typically means most to employees.
Our panel of judges praised N.E.W. Plastics for the high level of communication of pertinent health and insurance cost information it shares with its 195 employees. Rekitzke leads quarterly meetings with all employees to discuss metrics such as medical loss ratios, claims value, network use and average prescription costs per member, among other data. Our panel found this particularly impressive given N.E.W. Plastics’ industry.
“No doubt that manufacturing groups have it a little tougher,” to carry out effective wellness program communication, Geiger said. “It usually involves shift work. Also a lot of people who work in manufacturing don’t have the computer savviness or even access to a computer that people in an office setting have.”
Brand agreed, also citing N.E.W. Plastics’ efforts at integrating new hires into the company’s culture of health and wellness.
“Where I think N.E.W. Plastics really shines is in the communications category,” Brand said. “The focus on orienting new employees is also a step many employers tend to skim over. I don’t believe that you can rely on osmosis, and N.E.W. Plastics gets to those new employees right away.”
The company provides monthly wellness activities, like flu shots, blood pressure checks, skin cancer screenings, back-to-school check ups, and breast and prostate screenings. It’s ambitious, given that many other cutting-edge employer-based wellness programs might only conduct such activities quarterly or less.
“I thought they had really strong programming that showed that they put investments throughout the year, and not just health screenings and health questionnaires,” Geiger said. “I thought they hit it out of the park with programming.”
N.E.W. Plastics additionally partners with Prevea Health to provide all employees and their spouses with no-cost, onsite access to a health coach. The company also has a “clinic within a clinic,” the Prevea Health less than a half mile down the road, which provides free walk-in care visits to employees and family members, and just $5 to $15 co-pays for select lab work and tests.
“Team members see an average savings per visit of over $100 per visit as compared to what would be billed to insurance,” Rekitzke said. And that’s money that goes to both the company’s and the employees’ bottom lines.
Keeping insurance premiums stable
De Pere-based Nsight wears wellness on its sleeve – almost literally. Through its Cellcom subsidiary, the company sponsors the Green Bay Marathon – sending an unmistakable message that the telecommunication provider is serious about health and fitness.
“The marathon really fits into the picture for us because it involves the whole community,” said Pat Riordan, president and CEO of Nsight. “We wanted to get people involved in health – in getting out and running.”
It’s enough to impress panelist Geiger from Network Health.
“That gives employees a sense of involvement and getting out to do something in the community,” Geiger said.
In determining to present Nsight with the second of our 2015 Leadership in Wellness Awards, our panel of wellness judges was also impressed by the company’s employee participation levels.
“In 2007, they had 193 people participate in their program, and eight years later they have more than doubled that to 445. I thought that was very significant,” Geiger said.
“I find that to be impressive,” Brand agreed.
Health risk assessments are not mandatory, but Nsight offers incentives for participation. Employees who participate are eligible for reimbursement for a health club, gym memberships or fitness classes, and also receive a discount on their monthly health insurance premium.
Nsight offers health risk assessments onsite once a year. In 2014, Nsight held 27 sessions at 17 locations over the course of four weeks. Employees received detailed biometric results and have the option to have those results sent directly to the company’s onsite clinic or to their own primary care provider for follow-up.
“The fact that they use a blend of incentive prizes and premium discounts for HRA participation gives evidence to me that they’ve given thought and evaluation to find out what moves their employees to participate,” Brand said.
Nsight has an onsite nurse practitioner through Prevea Health’s LeadWell program that works at the Cellcom office in De Pere three days a week. Employees and family members on Nsight’s medical plan can visit the nurse free of charge. Employees and family members not on Nsight’s medical plan can visit the nurse practitioner for just $10.
Nsight also developed a system of walking trails installed at two of its locations, and employees are encouraged to use them during work breaks and for wellness challenges.
Nsight leadership reported its health insurance premiums have remained essentially flat in recent years – largely as a result of the wellness program.
“That’s really pretty much unheard of, regardless of the employer size and funding strategy,” Brand said.
Riordan said that any bottom-line benefit is secondary.
“I think you can probably come up with some correlation between wellness and productivity, for example,” Riordan said. “We anticipate an improvement in our bottom line because of the wellness program, but that’s not our focus. What we do see is an improvement in morale. It’s more of a holistic approach.”
Susan Powers, Nsight’s vice president of human resources and chief human resources officer, agreed.
“We’re trying to be involved in improving as many aspects of our employees’ lives as possible,” Powers said. “We’re just really excited about the level of interest we see from our employees. It makes for a happier and healthier workplace. Nsight and Cellcom have always been known for their strong culture and family feeling, and we want to continue to see that grow.”
Off to a good start
Green Bay-based Elevate97 is living proof that you don’t have to wait several years before seeing the fruits of a new corporate wellness program. Launched in October 2013, Elevate97’s wellness program has already made its mark among the company’s employees, as well as on its health insurance costs. For its efforts, our wellness panel presented it with a Start Up Wellness Program Award, recognizing exceptional efforts to launch an employer-based wellness program within its first two years.
“Elevate97 is still in the infancy of their program and they do some nice things,” said Brand of Valley Insurance Associates. “Health risk appraisals with cash-participation incentive are excellent and 90 percent participation without the presence of an onerous penalty for non-participation is very good. They have a lot of challenges and activities for the employees and that is an excellent avenue to maintain involvement.”
Geiger of Network Health was especially impressed with a portion of the program that actively encourages community volunteerism.
“That’s unusual and important,” Geiger said. “I really like that idea. So many times when we think about wellness, we think only about the physical dimension and we don’t really think about the emotional and mental connection. Encouraging volunteerism is a creative way of helping to reduce stress and support a work-family balance. You feel so good helping others that it probably helps you more than it helps the organization or people you’re volunteering for.”
That was the goal for adding the volunteerism component to the wellness plan, said Karen Sinette, human resources manager for the creative agency.
“We don’t tell our team members where we want them to volunteer,” Sinette said. “We want them to volunteer for something they’re passionate about and something they can connect with.”
For Elevate97’s executive team, bottom-line gains are a secondary focus – and a distant second at that.
“We go back to our mission,” said Dave Coe, president of Elevate97. “We want to create an experience that elevates our employees. It comes down to having an engaged employee. We did not make an investment in the wellness program because of the bottom lines. Intrinsically, we believe it’s going to add value, but it’s really about helping our employees achieve their goals.”
A marketing and brand development firm established in 1997, Elevate97’s clients include brands such as Carhartt, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, Pandora Jewelry, TaylorMade-Adidas and the Green Bay Packers.
Elevate97 offers annual health risk assessments to its employees. Participation in the HRAs is not mandatory, but the company incentivizes it by offering $25. During the past two times HRAs have been available, the company had 90 percent participation. The wellness program includes monthly challenges, such as a recent walking campaign.
“We bought pedometers and challenged our internal partners to develop cross-departmental teams,” Sinette said. “It was awesome to see how competitive our teams were. Our internal partners took 15,497,251 steps during the month of April.”
Elevate97 partners with Bellin Health to have a nurse on site every other week to work with employees on monthly initiatives and personal health goals.
Going forward, the program will increasingly focus on involving family members, Sinette said.
“We want to have more inclusion of the families in our initiatives so we’re focusing on the whole person – both work life and family life. I’m really passionate about that.”
Rick Berg is a freelance editor and writer based in Green Bay. Sean Fitzgerald is publisher of New North B2B magazine.