No pork, no fat

During his election campaign, President Barack Obama promised to eliminate pork. Now he's promising to eliminate fat, too. Fat among government employees, that is.

Obama met with the CEOs of several major companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Pitney Bowes - both i4cp members - to discuss strategies on how to reduce healthcare costs in federal government-run institutions. These companies, along with Microsoft, Safeway and others, are recognized as being leaders in employee health and wellness.

A statement from the White House proclaimed that Obama "will direct the Office of Personnel Management to work with the Office of Health Reform, the National Economic Council, the Department of Labor, and the Office of Management and Budget to examine successful employer wellness and prevention practices that lower health care costs and improve employees' health and to explore the feasibility of developing such a plan for federal employees and their workplaces."

The statement went on to say: "The president hopes that by encouraging more employers to adopt similar programs, we can improve the productivity of our workforce, delay or avoid many of the complications of chronic diseases, and slow medical cost growth."

The benefit of wellness programs are evident when one looks at the companies mentioned above. For instance, according to Johnson & Johnson, the company saved an estimated $15.9 million in healthcare costs in 2007 due to improved health initiatives. Pitney Bowes says their employee wellness programs have saved them $40 million over the last nine years.

So, how are these companies achieving these savings? While Johnson & Johnson and Pitney Bowes have their own special programs - which include treadmills in offices, risk-based incentives, exercise goals and health-oriented pricing in their cafeterias - here are some other high-level tactics organizations are taking to improve employee health and subsequently reduce healthcare costs, based on a recent i4cp study:
  • On-site flu shots
  • Gym discounts
  • Health information via e-mail, mail, intranet or elsewhere
  • Classes for health education, exercise and yoga
  • On-site gyms
How far Obama will take wellness initiatives is anyone's guess, but companies in general should take heed of the possibilities. Some wellness initiatives are more costly than others but can pay off quickly. Not only can they lead to a reduction in healthcare costs, but healthier employees equate to a less-stressed, more productive workplace.
Erik Samdahl
Erik is the head of marketing at i4cp, and has nearly 20 years in the market research and human capital research industry.