You may have given it a cold shrug or grumbled at the “intrusive” regulations, but taking advantage of your company’s wellness program (CWP) can actually work to your benefit. Like it or not, the trend of using financial incentives to promote good health among employees is showing no signs of waning. More than 90 percent of companies with 200 or more employees have some form of health-oriented initiatives in place, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Even small-to-medium scale businesses are also joining the bandwagon, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
What is CWP?
Also known as a employee or corporate wellness program, a CWP is a set of preventive health measures or services that encourage physical wellness and reduce risks for lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes and high-blood pressure. It can include literature on heart-friendly practices, subsidized healthy meals, free gym use, company sports days, seminars on stress reduction and exercises that minimize workplace injuries.
What benefits do I get for joining?
The biggest boon is having a healthier life and enjoying additional motivation to pursue your wellness goals with friends and colleagues, which fosters social camaraderie and can enhance work relationships.
When you hit biometric targets, you can also reap monetary rewards. In a Mayo Clinic study, participants who received $20 per month for reaching weight-loss goals shed an average of nine pounds. Your company may have other financial incentives attached to the CWP, such as a lower insurance premium for completing a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) or a surcharge for failing to do so. For instance, employees of Caterpillar, Inc. get a $75 discount for filling out their HRA, while workers for the state of Maryland can cough up penalties as high as $450 by 2017 if they don’t submit to specific screenings or ignore treatment plans for their chronic conditions.
If you have concerns that your HRA may expose you to job discrimination, check with human resources. The results of your screening should remain confidential from management. At the same time, use that opportunity to discuss other wellness initiatives being offered, so you can take full advantage of the program and its impact on your bank account. Remember, one in five companies are linking goal achievements with incentives and penalties, based on a survey done by Towers Watson and the National Business Group of Health, and that number is rising. Tobacco use is a popular health focus. Forty-two percent of employers are taking steps to influence smoking habits, and that group will increase to 58 percent in 2015.
Getting involved with a CWP offers other spillover effects. When you’re healthy and can keep stress under control, it’s easier to spend more quality time with your family. On the work front, you’re more productive and get a better chance to climb the career ladder. If your company also offers education on health insurance and how to keep prescription medication costs down, you’re on your way to becoming a better informed and savvier consumer.
A few more tips
Get at least one colleague to be your buddy when you sign up for a health challenge, such as losing weight or running the company marathon. Use apps or wearable devices (some employers provide them for free) that keep track of your progress. Tell your family members about your goals so you receive full support.
It’s important to recognize that the CWP is there to help you. Know what programs are in place, and don’t hesitate to be vocal about your suggestions for improvements.