Symposium shows how worksite wellness can decrease employer healthcare costs

click to enlarge BayCare's Stewart Schaffer speaking to local companies Tuesday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. - American Heart Association
American Heart Association
BayCare's Stewart Schaffer speaking to local companies Tuesday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

According to the American Heart Association, employers across the United States face $12.7 billion in annual medical expenses due to obesity alone. Over 50 companies from across the Tampa Bay area gathered Tuesday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum for the American Heart Association's Fit-Friendly Symposium. The session aimed to give employers tools and guidance in implementing worksite wellness programs.

"Worksite wellness is a thousand thing touches," says Lynn Heckler, of PSCU Financial Services. "It's not a silver bullet."

Since many jobs involve hours of seated and sedentary labor, even promoting any active work culture can make a big difference in productivity, absenteeism and, of course, healthcare costs for the company and employee. 

Inside PSCU Financial Services office in St. Petersburg, elevators have been slowed down to encourage the over 1,700 workers to take the stairs. There are treadmill work stations, recently implemented adjustable desks (employees can easily adjust desk from seated level to standing), free fresh fruit and bottled waters. There's an all-you-can-eat salad bar for just $3, available everyday. 

"In the longterm, you can save money on health insurance claims," Heckler says. "But we do it because we care about our employees. Healthier employees are better for business and can better serve customers."

It can also save companies upwards of $6,000 annually per employee. The American Heart Association's Fit-Friendly Companies Program helps employers put a plan in place. 

"People need motivation to get good nutrition and to be physically active," says Stewart Schaffer, vice president of marketing and communications at BayCare. "When you look at entities in a person's life that can motivate them. It could be a spouse, it could be children, but your employer weighs pretty big in that."

In breakout sessions, employers shared successes with apps like Couch to 5k and even an office-wide "instant recess" where employees are encourage to get up and move. Everyday at 2 p.m., inside the local United Healthcare office, a song plays and employees get up and dance for several minutes. 

"The culture of smoking cessation, everyone is supporting that," says Schaffer. "But not so much with exercise and nutrition. Sure, everyone believes in it. But are you willing to change behaviors?"

And changing the culture is the hardest part of putting any sort of wellness program in place. 

"It's about habits and state of mind," says Schaffer. "In order to change employee habits, you have to change employer habits."

Both Heckler and Schaffer say that support and involvement at the executive level is crucial to changing workplace culture.

"If it becomes part of the leadership of a company, over time you hope to have a reduction in the frequency and severity of health claims," Schaffer says. "The non-financial or indirect benefits are happier employees, less absenteeism, higher productivity. What employer doesn't want to have higher levels of employee satisfaction?"

For more information on becoming one of the American Heart Association's Fit-Friendly worksites see their application page here

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