How do your clients react when you mention the word wellness? Do they stifle a yawn? Shift their attention to their smartphones?

The term wellness has become an over-used word that clients often equate with physical health only. When applied to employees, some clients view the concept as a waste of time and money, as the broad description dilutes the preferred meaning - one that focuses on health and productivity. Maybe it's time to take a different approach to wellness.

Clients focused solely on physical health lose the full formula for total health. They think of healthy employees as those who have few, if any, medical claims or sick days. However, claims and absenteeism are only a part of the healthy equation.

The World Health Organization expanded the health definition by describing it as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index uses a similar definition for evaluation, encompassing emotional, physical and workplace environment as three of its six measurements for health.

As an employee benefit adviser, you recognized long ago the impact of an unhealthy employee population on health care costs. We have also learned that increased premiums and plan design changes do not alter the fundamental problem of unhealthy employees. In fact, the problem is getting worse.

If you want to break through the limitations of pre-conceived notions of wellness, educate your clients on the physical, mental and social well-being of total health.

 

Link to productivity

Poor health leads to lower productivity, and that has an impact on your clients' bottom line. Studies show lost productivity costs are two to three times more than those of medical and pharmacy. The good news is executives are getting the message about the link between health and productivity. Throw the word "productivity" into the mix and you grab the attention of the C-suite.

In a 2011 survey, 45% of responding CFOs identified workforce productivity as one of the most important factors affecting financial performance. As a result, 8 out of 10 CFOs report playing a key role in their organizations' health care decisions. Financial performance matters.

Smart business leaders are confronting spiraling health costs in a new way - by promoting a healthier workforce. They recognize that health and wellness programs can actually improve productivity, bringing a better return than cost containment practices of the past.

Improved health equals improved productivity, which in turn equals financial gain.

The link to productivity introduces a completely new element to your consulting services. As your clients' employee benefit adviser, it is not enough to sell them a health insurance product. Clients expect help containing costs and seek expertise in changing behaviors and improving overall employee health and productivity. They demand a sustainable value for their investment.

 

 

The social impact

Healthy behaviors start with the individual, but the environment shared with family, the workplace, and the community in which he or she lives has a tremendous influence. It takes more than a visit to a physician's office to invoke change.

An interesting development in the study of health behaviors reveals even the health of those who work and live around the employee has an impact on the employee - physically, socially, mentally and financially.

The authors of Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives write about the significance of social networks in creating a network contagion that affects our behavior. They explain, "To know who we are, we must understand how we are connected."

WHO identifies the workplace as the single most important channel to reach the adult population.

Networking is something you understand. The power of social networks connects resources and finds solutions for your clients' needs. The power of many - the employee, employer, health plan/carrier and employee benefit adviser - connect for a total health solution.

You sell your clients short if the extent of their wellness program is health risk assessments and biometric screenings. Discover the significance of employees' social networks and help your clients create an environment where healthy behavior is contagious.

Call it what you like - wellness and productivity, health and performance or population health management. To make a difference in your clients' health benefits investment, focus on the total health approach.

Educate clients on the true definition of health and demonstrate how managing the physical, mental and social well-being of employees' health improves productivity. Incorporate the power of social networks to engage employees in participating in healthy behaviors. Use your connections and health plan/carrier resources to develop a successful wellness program for your clients. Success is not what you call the program. Success is in the action you and your clients take for improved employee health and productivity.

Taylor, CWPM, is director of health and productivity at Alliant Insurance Services in Newport Beach, Calif. She can be reached at btaylor@alliantinsurance.com.

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