Once upon a time, corporate wellness was about flu shots and blood drives.
Today, it’s all about “wellbeing,” and wellness programs that are part of an overall benefits packages, according to Brian Lobley, president and senior vice president for commercial and consumer markets at Independence Blue Cross.
Over the 20 years that Philadelphia-based Independence Blue Cross has worked with employers on wellness initiatives, Lobley said employees have moved to a “more holistic approach” of wellbeing programs, which include not just preventive care but financial help and tools that let employees manage their health conditions.
“Employers … definitely see wellbeing as a solid investment—both as a way to improve the health of their employees and to help better control healthcare costs,” he wrote in an email.
While some employers create their own wellness programs, many turn to outside vendors—and the corporate wellness industry is booming. Between 2011 and 2016, the $7.8 billion industry grew 4.8 percent per year on average, according to a February 2016 report by IBISWorld. And that growth is projected to continue by another 7.8 percent per year on average from 2016 to 2021, when IBISWorld predicts the wellness industry will reach $11.3 billion in revenue.
Locally, Beryl Krinsky, founder and CEO of B.Komplete, has seen her own wellness company grow substantially since she founded it in 2012. Today, B.Komplete has 50 employees, including dieticians, nutritionists, yoga and pilates instructors, personal trainers, massage therapists, nurses and medical technicians. It has clients in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware and Connecticut, and Krinsky said she has plans for satellite operations in Boston and Houston.
Success, she says, is all about customization.
“We want to learn more about the employees’ culture, what they do, their specific health challenges,” she said.
In a manufacturing environment, for example, there are multiple shifts, workers tend to be primarily male and may have a low level of health knowledge and a high percentage of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, Krinsky said.
“They need to be made aware of nutrition and wellness complications,” she said. “We might set up a wellness awareness station and provide ergonomic training.”
Krinsky, a registered dietician who decided she wanted to start her own company five years ago, said companies sometimes survey their employees to determine what services they need. If the company doesn’t do it, Krinsky said B.Komplete does.
“You have to understand the group and customize the service,” she said. “One of the things we found after doing this for a couple of years is people were really excited about chair massage. We added that in 2016. Employees just love it. It’s a great way for employers to show employee appreciation, providing a break from stress—and we do all the work!”
B.Komplete provides classes onsite for small to mid-size companies, including mat yoga, pilates and functional training—exercise that help prepare workers for day-to-day living through muscle training and movement—and is planning to add ergonomic training this year.
Krinsky divides wellness programs into three levels: initial steps that make employees aware of the available services, activity-based services for employees who want to participate and incentive programs based on reaching such things as weight and blood pressure goals.
B.Komplete collects data on program participants through questionnaires and basic health screenings, and shares it in aggregate with the employers so that a strategy aligning services can be developed.
Corporations that adopt wellness programs see them as an investment that will improve overall productivity and cut expenses.
At Burns Engineering in Philadelphia—which is among the companies that has worked with B.Komplete—the wellness program has boosted morale around the office, said Karen Dixon, human resources business partner.
“A lot of our employees take part. They’re very competitive,” said Dixon, adding that the company this year is expanding the wellness program to include spouses.
Currently, 80 percent of the company’s 200 employees participate in the wellness program, which includes interactive sessions, demonstrations, lectures, competitions and health screenings. The company also has a gym on the premises, and employees earn points for taking part. Those points can be cashed in for gift cards, T-shirts and dinner with the chief operating officer. Participants also see a discount on their health insurance premiums as well as $500 to $1,500 contributed to their health savings or flexible spending accounts, Dixon said.
Since the program was instituted, Dixon said, the company has seen a reduction in absenteeism and emergency room visits.
Lobley said he doesn’t like to talk about return on investment when it comes to wellness programs because results are achieved over an extended period of time. Rather, he refers to “value on investment.”
“Wellbeing is a way for the company to invest in its employees’ future health, and may in turn help to lower healthcare expenses vis-à-vis employees’ reduced use of healthcare services,” he wrote.
Still, he said the success of any given company’s wellness program is dependent on the company’s culture and the level of support from the executive suite.