Creating an Employee Wellness Program in the Construction Industry

by: Smith and Howard

May 27, 2015

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The owner of a midsize general contracting business was frustrated by his company’s lackluster profitability. He’d invested in top-quality equipment, managed his projects as efficiently as possible and maintained a steady backlog. He’d also assembled an outstanding team of loyal and hardworking employees.

Yet something was holding the business back. He raised the issue with his financial advisor, hoping to find some insight into what was wrong. After some research, the advisor noticed one thing and offered a suggestion.

Recommended employee wellness program approaches

Despite all of their hard work, the contractor’s employees weren’t very productive. Absenteeism was relatively high, as were his health insurance costs. The company’s safety record wasn’t stellar. Taking these factors into account, the advisor recommended that the contractor look into creating an employee wellness program.

To get a better idea of how to create one, the contractor and his financial advisor sat down with the company’s insurance agent. She confirmed that encouraging healthy behaviors can help reduce health care costs and increase productivity. She also offered a few recommendations:

  • Keep it simple. A good program shouldn’t overburden busy employees. Use technology such as smartphone apps that allow participants to easily track their health data. Plan seminars and other activities to avoid conflicts with job schedules.
  • Communicate with participants regularly. There are a variety of ways the contractor could keep participants engaged with the program. The agent suggested a customized combination of e-mails, posters, preshift announcements, group activities and text alerts.
  • Lead by example. Ideally, every employee — and even their spouses and dependents — would participate. But that was unlikely to happen unless the construction business owner himself joined the program and championed it.
  • Incorporate teamwork. The program should promote camaraderie. So the contractor should design it to encourage employees to interact in ways they otherwise wouldn’t.

Wellness Program financial incentives

The contractor’s financial advisor brought up another important point. That is, the Affordable Care Act explicitly encourages employers to establish formal wellness programs. Under the act, a qualifying, “health-contingent” wellness program may receive a maximum reward of 30% of the cost of its health coverage. The maximum reward for the prevention and reduction of tobacco usage is 50%.

To meet the definition of “health-contingent,” participants must meet specified, health-related objectives. Additional rules and restrictions apply, which the financial advisor offered to explore and explain further.

Early returns of an employee wellness program

After laying much groundwork, the contractor eventually did establish a wellness program. And the early returns were good — absences diminished and his health care costs began trending downward. Moreover, his already close-knit workforce was getting even closer.

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