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Wellness programs urged to focus on employees' overall well-being

Wellness programs urged to focus on employees' overall well-being

SAN FRANCISCO — Employers can more deeply influence their employees' health management habits by expanding their workplace wellness programs to account for a more comprehensive view of their workers' overall well-being.

Though its exact definition can vary according to an employers' benefits philosophy and the wellness service providers they partner with, “well-being” as a concept generally encompasses an individual's physical, mental and emotional health, financial security, social comfort and professional fulfillment, experts said this week during the Integrated Benefits Institute's 2015 Annual Forum in San Francisco.

According to data compiled and presented by Franklin, Tennessee-based health care consultant Healthways Inc., employees that achieve a 10% improvement in their overall well-being report on average 5% fewer unscheduled absences and a 24% reduction in presenteeism, as well as a 2.2% reduction in the likelihood of a hospital admission and a 1.7% drop in the likelihood of an emergency room visit.

“This is about more than the impacts of physical wellness and reducing health care costs,” Jim Purvis, Healthways' vice president of well-being improvement, said during a case study presentation on Tuesday.

According to Healthways' data, a health management strategy that embraces the full scope of an employee's well-being is on average more than twice as effective at curbing productivity losses as a wellness program centered solely on physical health.

“That's the value difference that CFOs are going to care about when it comes to offering a traditional wellness program and a program that embraces this broader definition of well-being, whether it's our definition or someone else's.”

Since integrating Healthways' well-being assessment into its workplace wellness programs in 2011, the Irvine, California-based St. Joseph Health hospital system has seen a dramatic reduction in risky health and lifestyle behaviors among employees across its 16 facilities in California and Texas.

“We feel that the investment is meaningful, because we can see from the data that we are influencing our employees' health and well-being,” said Elizabeth Glenn-Bottari, St. Joseph's vice president and chief operating officer of integrative health.

From 2012 to 2014, the hospital system was able to reduce its number of at-risk employees in nine of 12 risk categories, including alcohol overuse, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, recreational medication use, low physical activity, stress and tobacco use.

“We've been able to cut some of these things by as much as 50%, so we feel like we're doing some great work there,” Ms. Glenn-Bottari said.

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