Delaware’s ING DIRECT Invests in the Health of Its Employees With Remarkable Returns

Delaware’s ING DIRECT’s employee wellness strategy and approach has been discussed in earlier posts.  The background of the wellness program was the subject of Part I of this post.  In Part II, we reviewed the principals underlying the corporate health and wellness program that shape the company’s various health-centric initiatives.  In this final part, we’ll look at the Returns on Investment ING DIRECT has seen since first implementing its wellness program.


High-Energy Initiatives at The Energy Zone

At the core of the ING DIRECT wellness program is The Energy Zone. The Energy Zone, is the company’s on-site exercise facility, which opened in March 2005. The facility is expansive, sprawling across 10,000 square feet of the company’s Delaware location. The Energy Zone is fully equipped with all of the cardiovascular and strength-training equipment found in a membership-based health club, including full shower and locker room amenities. These conveniences represent substantial time savings for associates. In turn, employees, who pay just $10 per month in dues, are more motivated to participate, in part, because of the ease of access to the exercise infrastructure.

And, once associates make their way to the fitness center, they can expect to have some company. The Energy Zone is staffed with a team of professionals dedicated to the promotion of health and wellness. The team offers members guidance on general fitness principles and the value of making healthy lifestyle choices. Nutrition counseling is available as an important auxiliary benefit to ensure associates are able to maximize their efforts in the gym. The Energy Zone staff is an enthusiastic group, implementing a number of interactive and motivational programs to get associates excited about wellness and to keep that enthusiasm in high gear on a long-term basis.

So how well has the Energy Zone worked? The gym sees, on average, approximately 150 employee-members per day. This number represents an increase in attendance by more than 70% since 2006. There is little seasonal fluctuation in attendance numbers. The Energy Zone’s attendance rate has virtually no decline in November and December—a time when the busy holiday season is historically linked to low attendance.

The Doctor Is In

What separates the ING DIRECT model from even most its highly regarded competitors is its on-site medical care. Employer-sponsored health clinics have experienced increased popularity over the last several years. And, as is not uncommon with this front-running company, ING DIRECT was one of the first large organizations to recognize the concept’s many values.

Until recently, the number of employers that provide on-site health clinics has been tiny. A recent study, though, found that 32% of all employers with more than 1,000 workers either have an on-site medical center or plan to build one by 2009. Again, ING DIRECT is far ahead of its peers.

The medical facility offered at ING DIRECT is available for associates on an appointment and walk-in basis. The facility is staffed by a board-certified family physician, and a registered nurse, both of whom are accessible to associates via phone and e-mail. The availability of on-site treatment for routine, as well as urgent issues, resulted in a direct and immediate savings of more than 1,300 working hours in 2006 alone.

Results and Returns

For many businesses considering a health and wellness offering, the lingering question remains, “Will it work?” Contributing to this question are a number of other questions such as, “How do we define success?” and “What will be the net gain?” All of these inquiries are legitimate and arise, and each arises in the context of keeping in mind the best interests of the business.

ING DIRECT has addressed the questions in a number of ways. First, ING DIRECT set clearly defined long-term objectives, such as reducing the cost of health care to its associates and to the productivity of the organization as a whole. With those objectives in mind, it was able to create a set of short-term goals, such as decreasing the number of tobacco users and increasing the amount of cardiovascular activity associates participate in on a regular basis. And, with these targets in mind, it set to work to get results.

And results have happened—far beyond the optimistic goals set by the program’s director, Don Baag, M.D. For example, one of Baag’s early initiatives was a campaign to decrease the percent of ING DIRECT employees who smoke by 5%. By all accounts, this is an admirable goal, and even more so in light of the fact that participation was entirely voluntary—no carrot or sticks required.

To measure the company’s effectiveness, a health survey was distributed to employees, who were selected at random at the beginning and end of the campaign. The results were remarkable. In a mere five months, the percent of employees who smoked decreased by 24%. Regardless of how “results” are defined, there can be no doubt that such a remarkable accomplishment is, by definition, a success.

The results of the wellness program also can be evaluated by referencing enrollment statistics. If associates are enthusiastic enough to enroll in continued short-term programs, they’re more likely to sustain a long-term lifestyle change. In this category, as well, the ING DIRECT wellness program sets the standard high. For example, in the first year it was offered, nearly 20% of employees participated in the company’s flu-shot program. Additionally, for employees who are not members of the on-site fitness center because of residency and traveling issues, ING DIRECT offers up to $40 per month in gym-fee reimbursement. Nearly 200 employees are enrolled in this program, which requires participants to provide proof of attendance at least eight times a month.

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