Karen Buch, RDN, LDN
Editor, RDBA Weekly
Registered dietitians (RD) are trained experts who share common goals to reduce the rate of obesity, improve nutritional intake and empower people to live healthy, active lives. These fundamental priorities are becoming increasingly important to corporations, including grocery retailers, as key drivers shaping the structure of health management plans offered to employees. Retail RDs can play a valuable role in establishing a wellness program that helps to maintain a healthier workforce while delivering a positive return on investment. Corporate Retail Dietitians may work directly with the company’s Benefits Manager and insurance provider or third-party wellness provider to manage corporate wellness. Some retailers also engage in-store retail dietitian teams and pharmacy teams in these efforts.
According to one 2006 study, 74% of health care claims costs are related to an individual’s lifestyle. For this reason, corporations have a financial interest in helping to keep their associates healthy. Offering a wellness program that effectively addresses lifestyle choices related to physical activity, nutrition, stress management, smoking cessation (and more) as a unique benefit to employees can help position retailers as progressive employers that care about the well-being of their workforce while positively impacting the bottom line.
Gain & Maintain Top-Down Support
The success of any wellness program depends on strong top-down support from company leadership, not just at the onset but ongoing, particularly because reaching a positive ROI (return on investment) is not typically achieved until approximately year three. Begin with a health interest survey of employees to establish a baseline for benchmarking. Then, meet with leadership to present your business case and decide together how to structure corporate policies to create a work environment and culture that supports wellness.
Prior to rollout, you will need a layered communications plan that includes direct-to-employee communications and support communications directed toward middle- and upper-management. Consider using a mixture of electronic and paper (interoffice and mail-based) communications written in English and other languages commonly spoken by employees. Communications should be worded simply and clearly with goals to raise program awareness, explain how easy it is to take part and answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” Make sure to address the confidentiality procedures that will be used to protect personal health information and explain the company’s motivation for offering the program in an open, honest and transparent way.
Assess Health Risk Status
Include program components to assess individual health risk status. Consider offering free, onsite screening events to measure blood pressure, weight and body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and blood glucose. If coordinating an onsite screening schedule simply is not feasible, employers can also use a screening data collection form that is completed and faxed by the employee’s physician or contract with a regional or national screening company that offers free-standing patient service centers that overlap the footprint of your store and corporate locations. A confidential health assessment (online or paper-based health and lifestyle questionnaire) often accompanies the biometric screening to offer instant results along with a personalized action plan.
Support Behavior Change
When possible, wellness programs should maintain individual choice within a framework that encourages positive lifestyle behavior. At-risk participants may be invited to work directly with a personal health coach who can assess readiness to change and provide personalized guidance and motivational support telephonically or onsite. Web-based platforms are also available to offer “digital” health coaching. Fun campaigns and team competitions may also be offered throughout the year to allow associates to work together toward health and wellness goals along with educational campaigns that encourage age-appropriate preventive screening tests (such as mammogram and colonoscopy) and immunizations (such as flu shots).
Reward Engagement & Outcomes
Employers may use a reward system to incent program engagement and eventually, health outcomes and responsible medical self-care practices. But, proceed with caution. Rewards that are set too high or too low can be counterproductive. Rewards set too high can hamper the development of intrinsic motivation and personal ownership needed to form and maintain healthy habits. Rewards set too low will not provide a “push” to help get someone started. Use survey input to help determine rewards that will best motivate your particular employee population. Common rewards are money, portable health savings account (HSA) deposits, gift cards, paid time off (PTO) and reduced insurance premiums or deductibles.
Measure & Report ROI
Return on investment may be measured through health care claims-based analysis and cohort analysis comparing costs year-over-year. Factor in avoidable direct costs related to health care and prescriptions, as well as indirect costs related to absenteeism, presenteeism, worker’s compensation, disability, poor morale and employee turnover and recruitment. Absenteeism is the amount of time employees are paid but not at work. Presenteeism is the amount of time employees are at work, but not really working. Turnover is the percentage of employees who leave each year. All of these are employee-related expenses. Expect the ROI for wellness programming to be greater for worksites that are self-insured. Insurance providers frequently offer discounts or “wellness credits” to an employer customer that offers a comprehensive wellness program.