Despite PepsiCo research, some companies keep trucking on with wellness

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Did you know that if you walk around a semi-trailer 25 times, you’ll have trekked a mile?

The drivers at Indiana-based transportation firm Celadon Group do, thanks to a wellness program that placed the company at number eight on the Healthiest 100 Workplaces in America – an even more impressive achievement considering most of the top workplaces were already in the health industry.

In the trucking industry, life on the road is hard on workers’ health, so Celadon had more to gain from wellness than most.

“When you’re getting up to $12million or $13million per year in medical claims, it’s worth spending a couple hundred thousand to help people to stay healthy and get off their medication,” says Derek Doddridge, Celadon’s director of HR.

Apart from the in-house facilities – a fitness center, nurse and wellness coach, among other resources – much of Celadon’s wellness costs are dedicated to paying out employees who work to drop their BMI to a healthy range. Depending on how much they lose, each driver could be paid up to $700. The company has $200,000 to $300,000 set aside at any given point purely to make these payments: that’s enough for one-fifth of their drivers to reach an ideal BMI.

“We’ve got just over 2000 people on our medical plan, so if everybody lost the maximum (BMI), we’d pay out close to $1.5million,” says Doddridge.

It’s an interesting case study in light of recent research of the cost-effectiveness of wellness in a similarly health-challenged industry.

A seven-year study examining more than 67,000 PepsiCo employees eligible for the company’s wellness program found that lifestyle programs encouraging workers to manage their health responsibly did not result in any financial benefit, on average. The exception was for employees with chronic diseases, who did achieve significant medical savings from a wellness program.

The research conflicts older studies of other companies’ wellness programs: across 15 studies of wellness programs at large US companies over the past 15 years, the average savings per dollar invested amounted to $3.37.

But at PepsiCo, maybe the problem wasn’t intrinsic to the wellness program, the former deputy health commissioner for New York City, Andrew Goodman, pointed out in a letter to the New York Times.

“I was not surprised that the study did not find an effect on obesity,” he remarked, “as I imagine that it would be quite difficult to lose weight when surrounded by PepsiCo’s food and beverage offerings.”

Want to improve your wellness program? Try this:

Dole out benefits around the holiday season The end of the year coincides nicely with the close of new years’ resolutions, and it also serves as a happy holiday bonus to spend on gifts.

Make the payouts significant For employees to be sufficiently motivated, they have to have a decent goal to work towards. Doddridge recommended capping the payouts at $700 to $800 a year to make the efforts worth it for employees. “Doing only $50 or $100 might not get people as excited,” says Doddridge.

Encourage friendly competition Last year, Celadon helped workers to encourage each other with a ‘Caught You Being Healthy’ system that allowed people to nominate others for bonus wellness points. Looking forward, the company is considering more data-driven friendly competition by using tracking devices such as Fitbits. “This year was [about] trying to drive more of an outcomes-based approach with metrics around BMI,” Doddridge says. “To drill that down even further, we’ve got to figure out a way to get people pushing each other.”

Experiment with BYOD If buying Fitbits seems out of the question for you, remember that it’s likely that many of your employees already own tracking devices. You can cut costs by taking advantage of this the same way you would with their mobile phones.

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Why your employee surveillance system probably won’t work
Should firms do more for workers’ financial wellness?

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