Indiana companies looking for guidance regarding the wellness of their employees can turn to the Wellness Council of Indiana.
The agency helps companies help themselves, rather than do the work for them, said Jennifer Pferrer, executive director of the council, operated by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re really here to help companies navigate the wellness conversation. We’re here as a resource for them,” she said. “We’re not a worksite solution. There are many vendors for those solutions. We just want to be part of the conversation and guide them.”
The council’s 178 members pay a fee of $2 per employee per year to be associated with the agency, which offers tools, resources, consultations and other services as companies initiate and develop wellness programs, Pferrer said.
“We have a formal mission statement to work collaboratively to positively impact the economic vitality of the state of Indiana by evaluating and guiding workplaces and communities through the development of their own comprehensive health and wellness strategy,” she said.
The council achieves its mission in a variety of ways, including helping create a “culture of wellness” and offering recognition to workplaces and communities as they develop their wellness programs, Pferrer said.
The AchieveWELL program offers three-, four- and five-star ratings to help companies focus on best practices, send a message to employees that their health is important and to provide recognition for the wellness work they do, she said.
“Wellness is very broad,” Pferrer said. “There are a lot of conversations about how things tie together and how important each is. We vet the information and provide them with tools and resources around the best practices.”
An important part is guiding each company through the process of getting a commitment and “buy in” from its CEO, she said.
“As we work with employers, we find wellness is tied to the economic vitality of a community,” Pferrer said. “We have a conversation about how workplaces impact a community’s health and can be a driver in that conversation.”
Wellness is important to companies for a variety of reasons, including reducing healthcare expenses, improving productivity and helping employees be more engaged at work, she said.
“The recruitment and retention conversation is fairly important,” Pferrer said. “If employees are engaged and you can retain them, then the costs of recruitment will go down.”
The Wellness Council aims to expand a company’s view of workplace wellness, so that it doesn’t just include physical activity and nutrition, she said.
“Employee wellness is not just a perk,” Pferrer said. “It’s a strategic practice where if an organization has top leadership commitment, strategy, resources and the commitment to make it a priority, it will see stronger business outcomes.”
Among those outcomes are reducing absenteeism and retaining employees, she said. A wellness program can achieve the latter by demonstrating a company’s commitment to its employees’ health, Pferrer said.
At least 70 percent of all companies and organizations offer some type of wellness program, said Christina Stafford, program coordinator for the council.
“That does not mean all 70 percent have an engaged program,” Stafford said. “They might not have the drive and metrics they want to see, but at least 70-80 percent offer what their organization would consider a wellness program.”
The need for wellness programs has increased because the average age of the workforce is increasing, she said.
“We have to adapt healthcare and businesses to make sure employees can stay healthy throughout their lifespans,” Stafford said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that companies lose about $225 billion a year in productivity due to absenteeism, she said.
The American Diabetes Association estimates that diabetes costs the American economy $322 billion annually, Pferrer said.
In Indiana, about 10 percent of the population has diabetes, she said. Diabetes is the number-one chronic condition employers hope to address in the state, Pferrer said.
Smaller businesses with less than 100 or even 50 employees can find success in wellness with “grass roots efforts,” Stafford said.
The early participants in programs can serve as their champions, she said. Employees can be surveyed about what they’d like to see in a wellness program, Stafford said.
“Many organizations may not have a budget dedicated to wellness,” she said. “Low-cost ideas are important. If you bring in bagels on Fridays, swap fruit for half the bagels. Improve nudging behaviors. Make the healthier choice the easier choice. For example, have a walking path mapped out at an organization.”
Nathan Taylor, wellness coordinator at the 500-employee Youth Opportunity Center in Muncie, was able to launch a program with a $120,000 grant, he said.
“We started with a gradual sort of building out, so we were not dependent on that money over time,” Taylor said. “Initially, it was things like a lunch and learn, partnering with the local community and university to bring in expert knowledge at low or no cost.”
Taylor spent about $30,000 on exercise equipment and was able to fund his own position and the salary of a graduate assistant with the seed money, he said.