The ING Direct [Role] Model for Wellness Programs–Part 2

The background of the ING DIRECT model for its employee wellness strategy and approach was the subject of Part I of this post.  In this part, we’ll review the principals underlying the program that shape the company’s various health-centric initiatives. image

Philosophical Underpinnings

Baag reports that, although it can be tempting to follow the current wellness trends as many companies have, the ING DIRECT culture demands something different. And something better. The goal is to effectuate deep-rooted and sustainable behavioral change without intruding on personal privacy and without monetary incentives, at least overtly. This means that wellness will have to appeal to employees with minimal emphasis of the traditional ‘carrot and stick’ model, if at all.

The principal underlying ING DIRECT’s wellness program is, at the same time, both obvious and complex. The philosophy that motivates the course of the wellness program can be described as, “The cost of providing health care to the workforce is higher than ever but the price of an unhealthy workforce is even higher.”

This philosophy reveals the company’s established recognition that health-care absorbs a substantial portion of the resources that can be allocated to employees as benefits. This is not so unusual. What differentiates the ING DIRECT methodology, though, is an equally well-established recognition of the very real costs associated with employees who are not able to perform at their best level. In other words, the company employs an organizational appreciation for the power of full engagement. ING DIRECT’s goal, then, is to promote well-being among employees while still preserving the integrity of its low-cost business model.

Caution: Obstacles Ahead

And, as formidable as that challenge may seem just by itself, there is another ever-present obstacle–the modern health-care system. Baag is often left to pick up the pieces as ING DIRECT employees make their way through a system that inefficient, slow, and without sufficient value placed on the needs of the individual patients. The ING DIRECT wellness program plays a double role as its members are frequently called on to be advocates for employees–intervening on their behalf when needed.

In developing ING DIRECT’s program, Baag first looked at the business costs of the health-care crisis. He then turned to the root causes of that crisis to determine what factors had the greatest impact on the cost of health care. The wellness program directly targets those root causes.

It is no secret that the cost of employer-sponsored health plans has skyrocketed. In turn, many employers have had to pass some of this cost along to employees in the form of higher premiums, increased copays, and deductibles. But the cost of health care itself is not the only cost that businesses must absorb.

Productivity is directly affected by the health of the organization’s employees. Absenteeism is an obvious drain on resources. Equally destructive is the cost of “presenteeism,” which occurs when employees attend work but are less productive due to illness or mental duress. In other words, they’re showing up but not much more. According to some accounts, presenteeism accounts for 20-60% of the total economic health cost incurred by employers. And one study found that the loss of productivity due to illness and sub-par performance in 2003 was approximately $260 billion.

The culmination of this data was a health-care paradox. On the one hand, employers cannot afford to have anything less than a healthy workforce while, on the other hand, the current state of modern health care is unaffordable. The next step in Baag’s analysis was to identify the main factors that had caused the cost of health care to become so unattainable.

One of the most significant factors is the cost of chronic medical conditions. They account for nearly half of the total health care expenditures in the U.S. The preventable conditions that ING DIRECT chose to target included heart disease and stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, work-related stress, obesity, and conditions caused by smoking.

In the next post, we will look in detail at the various measures ING DIRECT has implemented to help achieve its goal of workplace wellness. We will also evaluate the benefits ING DIRECT has been able to realize through its wellness program and whether its initiatives can be replicated by other employers.  In the meantime, you can have a look around some of the other wellness-related posts at the Delaware Employment Law Blog.

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