More companies are helping employees to healthier lifestyles and long-term financial security, two trends likely to grow because of rising health insurance costs and uncertainties over Social Security benefits and diminishing corporate pension plans.
These major trends were highlighted recently in the Principal 10 Best Companies for Employee Financial Security, a national program recognizing small to midsize businesses that excel at providing benefits to their employees.
In fact, of the 110 companies that have been named to the top 10 list over the last 11 years, 16 were credit unions. That did not happen by accident, said Luke Vandermillen, vice president of retirement and investment services at the Des Moines, Iowa-based Principal Financial Group.
“Credit unions do a nice job of recognizing the investments they make in their employees in terms of benefit programs because it means lower employee turnover and a more engaged workforce, which also means better customer service to credit union members,” said Vandermillen. “Secondly, credit unions have an up-close and personal view of the need for people to save, to manage their debt and to do long term planning.”
Arizona State and Vantage West offer employees a range of wellness programs including screenings for cholesterol and diabetes, yoga classes, nutrition and weight counseling, blood pressure checks, and athletic activities.
Both credit unions also offer reimbursements for gym memberships and educational webinars on heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stress management and other health topics. Employees are offered incentives for participating.
Vantage West said it gives out mini-elliptical machines, pedometers, blood pressure cuffs, kitchen scales, cookbooks and other health-related products. Arizona State offers prizes as well, including a paid day off for employees who complete a health risk assessment, according to the credit union.
“We have always had what we call an associate-focused, member-centered culture. The wellness program was really just another step of the evolution of that philosophy,” said Paul Stull, senior vice president of strategy and brand at Arizona State, which started its wellness program four years ago.
“As the improvements go up on the wellness side, we also see corresponding increases in customer satisfaction and our loyalty scores based on industry data through third-party providers and our internal surveys of members,” Stull said.
Arizona State’s wellness programs have dramatically changed health behaviors among its 414 employees as evidenced by weight loss, increased physical activities, alcohol use reductions and smoking cessations, Stull said.
“When you feel better, you have more energy and a more positive outlook in life, which helps you do a better job.”
The wellness program has also paid off in reduced health care costs, Stull said. In 2010, Arizona State saw its medical insurance claims drop by $350,000 over 2009’s claims.
On a broader scale, in 2010, Harvard University researchers conducted a meta-analysis research study, Workplace Wellness Programs Can Generate Savings, which systematically evaluated several independent studies on costs and savings of workplace wellness programs.
“We found that medical costs fall by about $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs and that absenteeism costs fall by about $2.73 for every dollar spent,” stated the study, published by Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed journal of health policy thought and research. “This return on investment suggests that the wider adoption of such programs could prove beneficial for budgets and productivity as well as health outcomes.”
Vantage West, which began its wellness program two years ago, said it hopes to calculate ROI by the end of next year.
Connie Rank-Smith, assistant vice present of total compensation and rewards at Vantage West, said the wellness program has improved morale. What’s more, she believes the program may have prevented serious health issues for some.
“I know that reports from our health insurance carrier show more of our employees are getting wellness exams,” Rank-Smith said. “I know from a wellness fair we recently held, some employees were identified with very high triglycerides and were advised to see their doctors as soon as possible. Other employees were identified as having prehypertension and hypertension. Can I tell you we prevented a stroke? No. Do I believe that’s possible? Yes.”
The second trend highlighted in the Principal 10 Best Companies program found that businesses are stepping up efforts to ensure that employees take advantage of their entire benefits package to help them build long-term financial security.
“The fall season is the time of year when companies do open enrollments for benefits,” Rank-Smith said. “I feel the mistakes companies make is that they don’t talk about their benefits for another year. And employees may be making decisions without fully understanding the impact of their decisions when it comes to benefits.”
Vantage One holds educational sessions several times a year on healthcare benefits, 401(k) plans, short and long-term disability programs, life insurance and other benefits.
Arizona State offers employees one-on-one consultations.
“We encourage employees to bring their spouse or significant other to meet with our financial advisers to learn ways they can secure a good investment program and build long-term financial security,” Stull said. “This is very important for employee satisfaction.”