Not Your Father’s Corner Office: Wellness is Key

Is your organization made up of younger talent that is currently fairly inexpensive to insure? Upcoming changes in the insurance industry make taking a second look at wellness programs a worthwhile investment.

In his book “How Starbucks Saved My Life,” author Michael Gilles Gates describes how, after being relieved of his executive position at a well-known advertising firm, he discovered joy and fulfillment through a job as a Starbucks barista. How this high-flying corporate manager could possibly be satisfied with a position serving others seems very unlikely, until he describes it: “It was hard to admit, but in many ways I really enjoyed working at Starbucks more than I had at my high status job at J. Walter Thompson,” he writes. But his amazement didn’t stop there.

He also couldn’t believe their benefits package.

“I read the Starbucks brochure about the insurance benefits with particular interest,” he says. “They seemed extensive, and even covered dental and hearing-”something I had never been given as a senior executive at JWT.” While few companies can afford to offer comprehensive benefits to full-time employees (much less part-time ones), upcoming changes to existing regulations make workplace wellness top-of-mind for many business owners, and should be of particular interest for those whose workforce is made up of younger talent.

If you thought you were saving money by hiring younger workers, think again.
We’ve all heard that creating a “culture of wellness” is something we should do, but few of us really understand how it relates to younger employees. What’s the rush? After all, it seems almost counter-intuitive to say that having a younger workforce will cost you more money. What a silly idea: How many 25-year olds have you met with bad knees and high blood pressure, anyway? Welcome to the world of the millennial, where child’s play involves staying inside and using technology more often than not, and where one-third of children in 30 states between the ages of 10-17 are overweight or obese. Point being: If this demographic isn’t part of your team now, it’s likely to be in the future.

Health care reform means many things are changing in the insurance industry. As of Jan. 1 this year, preexisting conditions were excluded for children under age 19. Plus, grandfathered plans that provide dependent coverage must cover adult children up to age 26, even if the child is eligible to enroll in another eligible employer-sponsored plan. Which means, when your previously covered employee turns 27, he or she may be coming on to your company’s plan with unhealthy conditions that have never been addressed. Considering the impact an employee wellness plan can have on the health of your workforce, you may choose to implement a wellness program sooner rather than later-”or bear the burden of someone else’s unchecked, unhealthy choices.

Do it now, or be forced by Uncle Sam soon enough.
Ooops-”did I say that out loud? Actually, the federal government can’t really force you to do anything in this case. However, according to Chris Powell of Royal Oak-based Benepro, new federal laws will soon mandate that employers with more than 50 employees face stiff penalties (up to $2,000/year times the number of full-time employees for the month, according to public relations firm Ketchum) by 2014 for failing to provide their employees with “minimal essential [insurance] coverage.” Essentially, you don’t have to do it, but if you don’t, you will be penalized.

The fact that roughly 40 percent of millennials work out three times a week notwithstanding, the likelihood of a millennial becoming obese is higher than previous generations, according to the 2010 book, “Millennials and the World of Work: The Impact of Obesity on Health and Productivity.” Given the prevalence of this disease in our generation, why would you want to take a chance that any pre-existing condition a young worker comes to your workplace with stays with him or her forever?

So create a culture of wellness, already!
Providing insurance and creating a culture of wellness are entirely separate issues. Or are they? Creating a culture of wellness makes sense for several reasons, and can lower your health insurance costs. Considering that approximately 70 percent of the burden of illness and the associated costs in the U.S. is made up of preventable illness, doesn’t it make more sense to encourage your employees to eat healthier, exercise more and take better care of themselves before you’re forced to bear an even bigger share of the cost?

Scott Foster of Wellco in Royal Oak reports that according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 50 percent of premature deaths in the U.S. are related to lifestyle factors-¦. ones that can be changed. How many of the existing unhealthy conditions in your workplace can be impacted by implementing a wellness program, and what kind of benefits might your company reap from them now, before you’re forced to think about them by our friends up on Capitol Hill?

Assuming that this will be expensive, time-consuming or stressful isn’t a way out, either. Companies such as Benepro can help you understand how to fully engage your employees in a wellness program, and Wellco can offer a complimentary 17-point planning guide to identify the most promising cost improvement opportunities.

You may be one of the employers who choose to opt out, and not jump on the wellness bandwagon until you have to. But why wait? After all, honoring health in your organization may not just be the thing that helps engage your younger employees over the long haul-”it may also be the key to snagging a few former execs along the way.

Danielle DeLonge is the Education & Training Program Manager for the Institute for Professional Excellence at Davenport University. She holds a BA from the University of Michigan, and an executive MBA from Davenport University. She can be reached at [email protected]. She would like to thank Kris Powell of Benepro and Scott Foster of Wellco for their contributions to this article.

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Richard Blanchard
Rick is the Managing Editor of Corp! magazine. He has worked in reporting and editing roles at the Port Huron Times Herald, Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, where he was most recently assistant business editor. A native of Michigan, Richard also worked in Washington state as a reporter, photographer and editor at the Anacortes American. He received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.