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Study: Workplace wellness programs help cut healthcare costs

REPOST ARTICLE SOURCE: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/story/2012-01-28/cnbc-at-work-wellness/52824820/1

Employees enrolled in workplace wellness programs report reduced personal healthcare costs, most commonly because of fitness center discounts and free preventative screenings, according to the findings of a survey by Principal Financial Group.

While the survey does not quantify the dollar amount saved per employee, Principal’s research does attempt to do so on the corporate level.

Survey results show that employers who invest in wellness programs see increased employee retention, attendance, and productivity. The numbers show that medical costs improve “by an average of $3.27 and absenteeism costs improve by an average of $2.73 for every dollar spent on wellness.”

Thus far, large corporations have led the charge.

“We get gym discounts, and flu shots in-house. Our health insurance coverage is also quite good. But I couldn’t imagine a large corporation not providing group health insurance benefits to employees,” Sheri Appel, treasury director for Swiss Re, a global reinsurance company, tells CNBC.

According to Principal Financial’s survey, small- and mid-size businesses are trying to catch up: Just ask their employees.

Of the 1,121 wellness program participants surveyed, over half said they are more productive as a result; 40% agreed that wellness programs encourage them to stay with their company, and more than a third said they have missed fewer days of work.

While it’s a step in the right direction, the employees also voiced discontent. The most common wellness benefit employers provide is online information.

“There is a misalignment. Most employers offer online wellness information, and educational resources. Employees want more hands-on, tangible rewards, like access to nutritionists, and onsite fitness facilities,” says Lee Dukes, president of Principal Wellness Company, a subsidiary of Principal Financial.

The costs of hiring on-site personnel are of course larger than online software, but it is an expense employers should seriously consider, says Dukes.

As a provider of retirement savings, investment and insurance products and services, Principal Financial has an incentive to find ways to keep clients’ insurance claims low and workers healthy.

But improved health has proven to be a win-win for each party involved, as the best way to reduce rising health care costs. “We help employers ensure their employees are healthier, more productive, and most importantly — at work,” said Dukes.

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