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Modeling Wellness

Leading northeast Wisconsin workplaces share their wellness program best practices

Story by Rick Berg

June 2018

Workplace wellness has come a long way in the past 40 to 50 years – from a feel-good, barely-on-the-CEO-radar fad to a core corporate strategy. In Wisconsin, for example, surveys have found that more than 75 percent of companies provide at least some form of wellness programming.

Workplace wellness has been around long enough now that the data is nearly indisputable: For every dollar spent on wellness programs, companies can expect a $3 return on investment in the form of reduced health care costs and increased productivity.

Most employers now recognize that improving their employees’ health has benefits far beyond the bottom line, said Mark Geiger, member wellness supervisor at Menasha-based Network Health.

“A well-crafted workplace wellness program provides value in a number of ways for organizations,” Geiger said. “First, employees can get a strong snapshot of their overall health when their workplace offers a health risk assessment and encourages an annual physical with their personal doctor. This awareness of their health, and relationship-building with their physician, allows members to stay up to date with preventive screenings and better recognize and treat many conditions.”

Health risk assessments, which have become cornerstones for successful wellness programs, also help organizations target their program offerings.

“If an organization gets enough engagement in their health risk assessment, they can pull a de-identified report that shows the top preventive risks at the company, as well as the risks that their employees are most looking to improve,” Geiger said. “This can ensure that the right wellness programming is offered at the right time.”

Successful wellness programs also share at least one key indicator, according to Geiger.

“Engagement, engagement, engagement,” Geiger said. “Get employees involved with wellness campaigns, challenges and events. Track health risk assessment completion and annual physicals. Building engagement year after year will lead to a culture of wellness in the workplace. This culture can improve employee satisfaction, retention and recruitment. And over time, high-dollar claims may begin to drop, and renewal rates will likely steady.”

Some of the most noteworthy wellness programs in northeast Wisconsin have been highlighted in recent years as part of New North B2B’s Corporate Wellness Awards program. Each demonstrates some of the best practices that separate good intentions from initiatives that positively impact employee health and business bottom lines.  

Faith Technologies’ holistic approach

Alyssa Kwasny, wellness program administrator at Menasha-based Faith Technologies, noted her company has been promoting workplace wellness since 2004, and does so “through comprehensive wellness programs; promoting a healthy, safe work organization; providing positive return on investment; and developing healthy lifestyles and behaviors.

“We desire to offer a best-in-class wellness program that is customized to our diversified and geographically dispersed workforce.”

Faith Technologies’ health plan realized a surplus of more than $1 million in 2016 against the plan’s projected claims, Kwasny reported.

“How much was attributed to a healthy population is difficult to quantify,” Kwasny said. “However, we’re confident that our continued focus on employee wellness and the requirement for employees to be more accountable to receive a premium incentive has had a great impact.”

Kwasny suggested that Faith’s wellness success is based on several key components: 

• CEO and leadership support;

• A wellness culture and positive, healthy environments;

• Financial incentives for both employees and spouses to participate and engage in healthy behaviors;

• A holistic approach focusing on the mental, emotional, social and financial aspects of wellness;

• Communication of wellness program information to employees and spouses through videos, printed material, email, websites, company meetings, and social media;

• Wellness reimbursements for run/walk/bike events; gym memberships and sports leagues; home exercise equipment; portable exercise equipment for traveling employees; shoe inserts for work boots; wearable fitness devices; weight management programs; and nicotine cessation classes;

• Annual biometric screenings for employees and spouses. Although the screenings are free of charge, Faith’s contribution toward medical insurance premiums has been tied to participation in biometric screenings. Last year the program had a 94 percent participation rate among those on Faith’s group health insurance plan.

• A wellness reward program encourages all employees and spouses to be even more engaged in the overall wellness program by giving them the opportunity to earn up to 100 points by participating in various wellness activities and challenges, which equates to a $100 monetary reward.

• A nutritionally supportive environment that provides free fresh fruit, green tea, oatmeal and other healthy snacks in the company’s vending machines or micro market.  

Besides the New North B2B wellness award, Faith’s wellness program has also been recognized in several other award programs, including Atlanta’s Healthiest Employer, the Healthiest 100 Workplaces in America, Milwaukee’s Healthiest Employer, Kansas City’s Healthiest Employer, and the Wellness Council of America’s Gold-Level Well Workplace Award.

Faith Technologies does not quantify success in its wellness program based on bottom line results alone.

“Wellness has many benefits for the culture and success of an organization outside of the health plan,” Kwasny said. “Faith’s goal with our wellness program is to improve the lives of our people. A good wellness plan takes time and a strong wellness culture to help people live healthier lives and feel better. Through biometric screenings and member health assessments, employees sometimes uncovered undetected conditions which led to follow-up visits to primary care specialists.

‘These individuals were subsequently referred to specialists for early intervention. Because of early intervention, one participant with heart concerns incurred treatment costs two times lower than if treatment would have been delayed. Most importantly, his life was at risk, and his biometric screening led to the care he needed.

Appvion’s long wellness journey

Appvion’s journey towards building a culture of health started back in the 1950s when the Appleton-based specialty papermaker partnered with the YMCA to offer subsidized memberships for employees, according to Heather Birr, senior human resources representative.
“Since the late 90s, with senior leadership team support, we have been able to grow our wellness program to have dedicated resources and programs available to improve the overall health and well-being of our employees, which reduces health care costs for our employees and the company.”

Appvion’s long health-focused history and leadership buy-in has played a key role in building strong participation in the wellness program.

“Employees are more likely to participate when they know senior and midlevel managers are supportive, dedicated resources,” said Birr, who previously served as the company’s wellness plan coordinator. “These individuals have the passion, creativity and motivation to help others reach their goals.”

Other key factors include effective communication and data collection, according to Birr.

“We’re helping employees understand what is available to them and why it’s important to participate,” said Birr. “Also, we do data collection and evaluation through health risk assessments, utilization reports and surveys to determine the effectiveness of our wellness program.”

Among the most valuable components of Appvion’s wellness program is an onsite clinic managed by ThedaCare and an onsite wellness center.

“The clinic offers preventive care, disease and wellness management, and acute care appointments to Appvion employees, their spouse or domestic partners, and dependents between the ages of 12 and 26 at no charge,” Birr said. “We also have an onsite wellness center that offers cardiovascular and weight-training equipment, classes, personal training, and modality treatments.”

Health risk assessments and wellness reimbursements also help incentivize employee participation.

“We offer health club and tobacco cessation reimbursement to all of our employees,” Birr said.

Appvion employees and their spouses have the opportunity to participate in a free and confidential health risk assessment every year, Birr said, and can meet with a health coach to create a personalized plan to help them improve their overall health. Aggregate data from the health risk assessments helps determine programming that targets the employer’s leading risk factors.

“The HRA reporting tool allows us to see the percentage of participants in the low, moderate, and high-risk categories in tobacco use, (body mass index) and body fat, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar as well as aggregate responses to their lifestyle habits. With an aging workforce, our goal is to remain consistent or to see an improvement to these scores on an annual basis,” Birr said.

Appvion has been awarded the gold-level workplace wellness award from Wellness Council of America, the Governor’s Worksite Wellness Award, and multiple Light of Wellness awards from the Wellness Council of Wisconsin.

While bottom-line results are not Appvion’s key indicator of wellness success, “we see a positive ROI when we look at utilization for our clinic, wellness center, EAP, health coaching and HRA services,” Birr said. “Although we’ve seen a modest increase to our health insurance premiums each year, research shows that our premiums have increased at a slower rate than similar companies who don’t have a wellness program in place.”

J. J. Keller’s strategic wellness focus

Neenah-based J. J. Keller & Associates’ more than 20-year foray into wellness is certainly not based on a whim, noted Tim Pingel, senior environmental, health and safety manager.

“At the heart of the company’s strategic planning is the retention of quality associates, as they are the company’s most valuable asset,” Pingel said. “J. J. Keller realized that they needed to go beyond surface recognition by taking care of their associates, and so the Life wellness program came to be in 1996. Since that time, J. J. Keller & Associates continues to show its commitment to the overall well-being of associates and their families by providing a supportive work environment along with numerous incentive, educational and motivational tolls and programs.”

J. J. Keller is in rare company having earned the Platinum Well Workplace Award from Wellness Council of America, and was the first employer in Wisconsin to ever achieve a perfect score from WELCOA.

“Leader involvement is key,” Pingel said. “In 2012 we implemented a health and wellness steering committee which included the CEO, CFO, VP of HR Services, benefits manager, the environmental, health and safety manager, the marketing director, benefits consulting company, and onsite clinic and wellness vendor.”

As a group, the steering committee looked at the bigger picture and strategic planning of wellness and benefits, which then provided direction to the general wellness team.

Also, Pingel added, “it’s not just the C-suite we need involved – it’s the team leaders and area managers that really provide traction for the wellness programs. To help these leaders out, we provide management talking points to provide easy explanation and benefits of current wellness initiatives.”

Pingel believes the most valuable components of J. J. Keller’s wellness program are onsite health clinics and health insurance premium incentives.

“The most utilized and highest-rated wellness program is the company’s onsite health clinics,” Pingel said. “These clinics provide primary and preventative care, disease management, patient education, health promotion services and – since May 2017 – dispensing of over 40 prescription medications at no cost to those on the company’s health plan.”

He indicated the company’s health plan premium incentive has been the second most valuable wellness component.

“One of the company’s guiding principles is shared responsibilities and shared results,” Pingel said. “The company uses this principle from a gain-sharing perspective, but also with the health plan premiums. The company will share the premiums equally, but for those willing to put in a little extra effort to improve or maintain a healthier life, the incentive is worth up to $2,000 annually for associates. This incentive is also available to those spouses on the company health plan.”

The program is paying off for J. J. Keller in multiple ways, according to Pingel.

“We have definitely seen a correlation with the health assessment risk levels and health insurance premiums. Over the last four years we have steadily increased the percentage of associates and spouses at low risk while also reducing the number at high risk.

“As a result, the company’s health insurance has had no premium increases for our associates in 2015, 2016 and 2017. In addition, the company was able to provide a premium holiday in October 2016, when no health insurance premiums were deducted from associates’ pay.”

N.E.W. Plastics creating a healthier workforce

Luxemburg-based N.E.W. Plastics has been on the wellness bandwagon for more than a decade and continues to see the results first envisioned when the company began offering health risk assessments and health coaching in 2008.

The motivation for that initiative was a common one for manufacturers: “An aging workforce, lost time due to injuries and illness,” said N.E.W. Plastics President Mike Rekitzke. “As a result, our insurance premiums were climbing and the only way we would stave that off was to get a healthier workforce.”

Since replacing its current, aging, not-so-healthy workforce with a younger, healthier one was not a realistic or desirable option, the company focused on getting its existing workforce to a better place in terms of overall health.

N.E.W. Plastics began by partnering with Green Bay-based Prevea Health to offer health risk assessments and follow-up coaching, “and the results have been extremely favorable,” Rekitzke said. “We stated seeing results pretty quickly, within a year really. The HRAs have been very important in terms of building awareness. We all like to think we’re healthy, but with a health risk assessment, it’s a chance to sit down and look at it and see how healthy we really are.”

Rekitzke said once employees started doing HRAs and people began seeing their blood pressure was up or their cholesterol was up, they began taking more accountability for their health.

“That’s when we started really seeing things change,” he said. “The place we’ve really seen improvement is the number of employees in the high-risk category move into medium risk and medium risk move into low risk. The number of employees in high risk is way down and that’s a metric we look at very closely.”

The results have included a significant reduction in smokers, far fewer lost work days resulting from illness and injury and – not least – only moderate group insurance premium cost increases.

“Single digits, whereas we understand many companies are seeing increases in high double digits,” Rekitzke said.

To incentivize participation and improve health, N.E.W. Plastics offers annual health insurance premium rebates for employees who participate in health coaching from Prevea and activity programs through the company’s partnership with myInertia, a Green Bay-based wellness provider that focuses on physical activity.  

“That has been a big boost,” Rekitzke said. “People know if they do the right things, they are going to get a rebate on their insurance premiums at the end of the year.”

The company has also been able to restrain its health insurance costs – partly through a healthier employee population, but also by restructuring the insurance program. That program now includes a higher deductible, but employees don’t generally feel the impact, because a free Prevea clinic available to employees and their families means that many expenses otherwise paid out of pocket are now provided without cost.

“That’s kept our insurance premiums and employees’ insurance premiums down,” Rekitzke said. “It’s been a great program for us.”

Rick Berg is a freelance writer and editor based in Green Bay.