While Waupaca School District was focusing on its wellness program the past three years, it happened to save nearly $1 million in insurance costs. A number of factors were involved in the savings, but the district's wellness efforts played a big role.
And even more significant than the savings made through the "Working on Wellness"(WOW) program is how it improved the health of Waupaca employees.
For example, employees improved their collective biometric score from 76.9 to 77.8. A biometric score is a composite of tests for blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol, and body mass index. Optimal scores are between 91 and 100, but an average score for employers similar to Waupaca is 75.94.
"To be able to move one point is incredibly hard," said WEA Trust Health Promoter Chris Ceniti. "This shows that as a collective group, Waupaca made a difference."
How can your employees see wellness success like the Waupaca School District? Here are four Waupaca-tested tricks:
1) Sustain leadership support
At Waupaca schools, the leadership team began its wellness discussion by asking what would motivate its employees to participate in basic wellness initiatives like personal health assessments. Their answer: A 3% premium increase. Waupaca employees already paid 15% of the premium, so increasing the premium to 18% only for employees who didn't participate was enough to spur action.
"Linking participation to premium was not only cost effective for the school district,"said Ceniti, "But it tied health insurance to healthy actions."
Waupaca leadership also decided to offer wellness to everyone - all health plan employees and their spouses, plus non-health plan employees and their spouses.
"We didn't want to exclude anyone,"said Waupaca Business Manager Carl Hayek. "We are not just doing this for insurance purposes. We are making a wellness commitment overall."
Any wellness initiative starts with leadership making key financial decisions. But any successful wellness initiative sets up the expectation that leadership will be involved every step of the way.
"Leadership support is without a doubt the most essential element to creating a meaningful wellness program," said Ceniti. "Without leadership being continuously involved, you simply will not see savings like Waupaca."
2) Pick a Personable Wellness Team
After Waupaca's leadership team figured out the wellness "what", the wellness team focused on the "how."The wellness team consisted of 14 respected district staff members, whose main job was to coordinate wellness implementation.
Instead of finding a team of health gurus who might frighten people away, Waupaca chose more of a marketing team that could communicate well.
"We wanted people who were very personable and favorable,"Hayek said. "I'm the guy who goes out in his kayak and then smokes a cigar. And that's how our wellness team was. Our team wasn't the healthiest in the world, but they had respect. They were likeable."
Q: How did leadership support the wellness team?
A: Hayek regularly attends wellness team meetings. Having a decision maker at the table supporting the team validates its efforts and facilitates effective communication.
3) Collect the Right Data
Waupaca wanted to find out what programs would impact employee health while still attracting high participation. To start, Waupaca created an interest survey to determine what things block employees from participation.
The wellness team also looked at results from biometric screenings and a lifestyle questionnaire. The purpose was two-fold: First, the wellness team needed to develop objective measures to analyze its success. Second, the results point to at-risk employees who could benefit from a special invitation to diet and fitness programs.
Q: How did leadership support data collection?
A: The district paid for health coaching at the biometric screenings. Health coaches assist employees in interpreting their results and give customized advice on making healthier decisions.
4) Offer Appropriate Interventions
Waupaca's wellness team used the data it collected to offer appropriate interventions. For example, the wellness team created the Holiday Trio, a challenge to "maintain, don't gain"during the holidays. Employees teamed up to support each other and the wellness team sent weekly emails with how-to tips and healthy recipes.
The smart work paid off - 150 Waupaca employees participated.
Q: How did leadership support interventions?
A: The district offered three $25 Chamber of Commerce gift cards for the Holiday Trio program winners.
The bottom line
"Waupaca is disciplined in their planning, and their planning creates outcomes,"said Ceniti. "They do their due diligence to create wellness the right way - using proven benchmarks - and you can see it in their results."