Employee Wellness Programs

Posted on October 11, 2010


In July, I bit the bullet and signed up for my company’s employee wellness program, Virgin HealthMiles. I admit, it seemed gimmicky at first. When I started at Haskell, it seemed like an unnecessary way to be competitive at work. However, once I learned more about the system I realized it was nothing like that.

Employee wellness programs are one of the tools we, as individuals, will use to affect our health every day.  Through programs like this, we will chip away at poor lifestyle choices and slowly make better choices. These small daily decisions add up and begin to affect change over long periods of time. 

I am happy to say I have earned $25 in about two three months of activity, which is not much, but ‘free money’ nonetheless for simply wearing a pedometer and paying attention to my activity levels.

I will say it again, it seemed silly to agree to wear a pedometer to monitor my daily step totals. The pedometer is digital and quite smart—no gaming the system by putting it on your dog because it recognizes the natural gait of a human and counts steps that way. 

It is a no-brainer:  the more you move, the more steps you total.  As you accumulate steps and cross certain activity thresholds, you earn points that add up to retail discounts or cash back at the end of the year. Virgin offers an easy website to use that tracks your steps, points, offers tips, logs your activity level, and other helpful things.

I upload the pedometer via USB to my computer and the info transfers automatically.  Twice a week I track my totals.

Why is this important? It really does change behavior for the better. I am a fairly active guy, but wearing a pedometer makes me choose the more active way of getting somewhere. I take the stairs. I visit people in my building. I go on walks for part of lunch instead of staying at my computer, and when I walk my dogs, I usually take the longer routes these days. It all adds up at the end of the day.

Programs like this can create silly competition among coworkers, but these programs are really about self-betterment. Employee wellness programs benefit employers through lower premiums from less utilization of health insurance, they pay employees for good behavior and lifestyle choices, and they lower healthcare delivery costs for hospitals and insurers.

Yes, my wife says the pedometer is uncool (all I need is a fanny pack and metal detector to fit in with the seniors on the beaches) and there is a Big Brother aspect to it; part of the reward is monitoring your weight and blood pressure, which is recorded and probably tracked in some gigantic database somewhere. But no blood tests are involved and you can choose to not set goals for weight loss and not measure yourself if you do not want to.

If your employer offers a wellness program, seriously consider it. Support these programs because they are very subtle but important momentum for a sea change in healthcare that will need to come during our lifetime. Costs are too high and only by taking charge at the personal, individual level can we affect long-term change. Cliche or not, it happens one, single step at a time.