By Lisa Zamosky
Workplace wellness programs that help you lose weight, get more exercise, stop smoking, and better manage a long-term illness have been growing in popularity for a number of years.
According to the U.S. Labor Department, more than 90% of employers with 200 or more workers have some type of health promotion or disease-prevention program in place.
Wellness programs are one strategy employers use to keep health care costs from rising as a result of long-term conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, that are sometimes related to lifestyle choices.
Here are five things to know about wellness programs.
1. There’s help for what ails you. More and more employers are offering programs and resources to help you improve your health: exercise areas at work, anti-stress seminars, discounted gym memberships, stop-smoking programs, diabetes counseling, and even free wristbands to track your daily physical activity. If you don’t know what’s available, ask your HR or benefits department.
2. Expect to feel some pressure. Your employer may offer rewards or penalties based on whether you participate in its wellness programs and the progress you make toward your health goals.
More than 4 in 10 companies, for example, reward or penalize employees based on tobacco use, a recent survey by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health found. An average of $520 a year is added to the cost of health insurance for those who smoke, according to the survey.
3. You have rights. To prevent discrimination, employers are required by law to offer you another way to earn incentives or avoid penalties.
If there’s a medical reason why completing a certain health habit isn’t possible, you need to be offered an out. For example, if you participate in your employer’s weight reduction program but ultimately don’t meet your goal due to some physical limitations, you may be able to avoid a health insurance surcharge.
So, ask your employer or health plan about reasonable alternatives to the company wellness program.
4. Get technical. Health care apps and wearable fitness devices that track your physical activity and calories burned are now incorporated into many wellness programs. They can make it easier for you to track your progress and stick with your plan.
Many employers, for example, may subsidize a wearable fitness device, such as a FitBit, that allows you to track how many steps you take in a day and the number of calories burned. You may also be able to share your progress with co-workers through social media, so you can see how others are doing and how your level of activity compares.
5. Ask your insurer. If you’re among the millions of Americans who buy health insurance on their own instead of getting it at work, you should ask your insurance company if it offer wellness programs. Most do.
Coaching for weight management, nutrition, stress management, improving sleep, and quitting smoking are also common, and they can be a big help as you work to improve your health.
Have you participated in a wellness program? Did it help you reach your health goals? Please share your experience in the comments section below.