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Wellness: An Essential Component to a Comprehensive Safety and Health Program

Sept. 13, 2012
When ACCO Brands faced skyrocketing medical costs, the company implemented a comprehensive wellness program to help employees improve their health and reduce their medical expenses.

It was a lose-lose situation: Skyrocketing medical costs took its toll on ACCO Brands as a company and also on employees’ wallets as they had to pay more for their health care. The company tried to lower costs in various ways that proved either ineffective or unpopular before turning to a solution that worked: embarking on a comprehensive wellness program.

“We wanted something to pull the employee through the wellness initiative and encourage them to change behaviors,” explained Kristin Berdelman, director of benefits at ACCO Brands, during a Sept. 12 session at the America’s Safest Companies Conference in Chicago. “Our No. 1 driving course was to try to reduce medical costs in the long-term.”

The company settled on the wellness provider Vitality and engaged employees with the following key program components:

  • An interactive and engaging Web site;
  • Excellent implementation and communication;
  • Program advancement connected to medical premium discounts;
  • Annual biometric screenings at all U.S. company locations;
  • Wellness events implemented at each location;
  • A Champs Program; and
  • Support of senior management.

That last component of leadership support was especially important, Berdelman stressed. In fact, the health strides made by the company’s own CEO played a big role in the initiative. “Our CEO Bob Keller ended up losing about 55 pounds,” she said. “There is no better advocate for your program to see senior management lose a significant amount of weight.”

As positive as Berdelman is about the program, which has been in place for the last 18 months, she also acknowledged its challenges. She said the first year “went off like gangbusters,” but participation and enthusiasm started wane a bit during the programs’ second year. Additional challenges included internal resource constraints; communicating the program to labor employees; measuring ROI given mergers/acquisitions; and the fact that manufacturing locations had the lowest participation.

But the good news is that the wellness program slowed the rise of out-of-control medical costs.

“After years of significant medical expenses, 2011 claims are almost the same. Our medical claims trend is really flat – costs are flat from 2011 to 2012,” Berdelman said. For a company that had faced continuous increases in health care spending, this was no small victory.

Furthermore, the program helped identify health risk factors for employees – with nutrition concerns, physical activity concerns and BMI scores topping the list – and helped employees work toward individually tailored goals designed to help them improve their health. From encouraging workers to eat more vegetables, become more active and recognize the realties of their health status, the wellness initiative helped ACCO Brands employees shape up and take control of their own health and wellness.

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