Preset goals help show productivity benefits

Targeted programs can prove the wellness link

It's one of the most daunting goals a wellness professional can face: demonstrating a link between improved employee health and higher productivity. You can increase your odds for success, however, by planning ahead, and having clear goals in mind.

"You need to begin with an end in mind," asserts Cathy Hawkes, MSN, assistant vice president of health management with CIGNA Healthcare in Philadelphia. "Decide upfront how you are going to incorporate evaluation and measurement into the program design process. Too often people are very enthusiastic when they begin a program, but halfway through it - or even at the end - they'll say, `What can we show senior management that really makes it apparent we were successful?'"

When developing your program, Hawkes advises, be clear about aligning your objectives with those of your business and your department. "Too often, people work in isolation," she notes.

Finally, says Hawkes, think broadly in terms of the data that are available in your company. This can include employee survey data, focus group data, disability claims data, health care claims data, attendance records, benchmarking data from other organizations, and national databases.

You should also recognize that little things can make a big difference, says Linda Hall Whitman, president of Minneapolis-based Ceridian Performance Partners. Ceridian provides a comprehensive work/life program it calls LifeBalance.

"Last week I met with an editor in New York," Whitman recalls. "He had recently taken 16 hours during work to make phone calls concerning an elderly parent. If he had had our program, he would have made one call; that's a dramatic indicator of productivity."

She also shares Hawkes' belief in the value of planning ahead. "Very often clients request a customized analysis [of the program] based on what the original objectives were," she notes.

Programs that work

Hawkes has implemented several programs at CIGNA that demonstrate the wellness/productivity link. One of the most successful was deceptively simple: a flu shot program.

"We started giving shots three years ago in Nashville," she says. "At that point in time, we found that people were missing on average over two days of work each year due to flu or flu-like symptoms. After the program, people reported missing less than half a day."

Hawkes considered the savings significant, particularly since it was the first year of the program. Based on those results, CIGNA expanded the program in 1997 to include 36 offices nationwide. "We gave a total of 6,761 flu shots; that's about 10,000 saved work days," she says.

Another CIGNA program involves on-site physical therapy. Last year, 100 employees accessed the program for a total of about 823 visits. "We determined that we saved about two hours of missed work for each person, or a total of over 1,600 hours," says Hawkes. While admitting that it's difficult to attach a dollar value to the savings because of the wide range of job grades, "We look at two hours saved, and that's significant, particularly when we're looking at only eight patient visits. Our concern is getting [injured] people back to work, and for them to be productive while healing."

Hawkes says that CIGNA also has a "Working Well Moms" lactation program under way in cooperation with UCLA at 85 sites. "We'll be looking at absenteeism data; we'll be talking to 200 moms currently enrolled in the program," she says. The initial data will be out in September.

"Another thing I'm interested in is EAP [employee assistance programs]," Hawkes says. This year, CIGNA's EAP department created a new manager's guide. "We believe that when managers are confronted with really tough problems and they have one source to go to to get real practical answers, we will have some productivity gains. I find that when employees come to me with problems they might already have spent a number of weeks finding out where to go. The EAP can pull different people together in a focused way."

Which brings us back to Whitman's "one-stop" productivity solution. "We conducted a survey of employees from 'Fortune 500' companies, and 70% said if they had not called us, they would have taken off work [to deal with their problems]," she notes.

She adds one more anecdote to demonstrate just how time-efficient a work/life program can be. "We had a call last week from the CEO of a major company who had recently had eye surgery," she reports. "He needed to be driven to a meeting, and asked us to route him so he would not have to go over 4,000 feet in elevation. We got back to him in 15 minutes."

Finally, she says, by providing such programs employers can boost company productivity. "In a 1996 Roper poll, 87% of the respondents said they would work harder for a company that is willing to help them deal with personal problems," says Whitman. "That's a powerful report."