When the term “wellness” is used, it often has different meanings for individuals. For some, it conjures up images of physical activity and being healthy and “fit.” For others, it may symbolize restfulness and relaxation or an overall positive outlook. As our wellness coordinator at the city, I was provided with a fresh perspective on wellness when I recently attended the 2017 Association of Washington Cities (AWC) Healthy Worksite Summit at the Lynnwood Convention Center in March, along with our wellness chair, GIS analyst Dave Rohde. At the event, which promoted ideas of creating as healthy of a workplace as possible, the City of Edmonds was recognized for our recent 2017 AWC Well-City Award achievement.
This award achievement will result in a 2 percent medical premium insurance discount to the City in 2018. The AWC Well-City Award requirements include: having a Council/Mayor approved wellness policy and an active wellness program with employee participation; completing documented wellness-related activities that provide progress measurements of overall employee wellness; and, one of the biggest award requirements, completion of a health questionnaire through WebMD by 50 percent of the total covered employees and spouses on the city’s health insurance plan.
It was there at the conference (of 300-plus attendees from all over the state) that I heard a definition of wellness used that resonated with me, which I feel most accurately describes its meaning: “well-being.” Keynote speaker Mitch Martens, the employee wellness administrator for Cedars-Sinai (the largest non-profit hospital in Los Angeles), said he liked to use the term “well-being” instead of wellness because too often the focus of wellness is on being [just physically] “well.” Reflecting on this, “well-being” is really the best way to describe our wellness program at the city, which was started back in 2013 with strong endorsement and support from the mayor and by council through our wellness policy.
It is this overall well-being focus that drives the committee, through continued support of leadership, to design and sponsor a range of events throughout the year for employees. These activities can affect employees through participation in healthy activities/behavior and encouraging health awareness/education to create and inspire a culture of wellness (or overall employee well-being). This year, the committee’s major activities include the planning of a community garden (with healthy gardening seminars) as well as installing water purifiers throughout the city and hosting an afternoon field day for employees and their families in the summer.
It should also be pointed out that there is also a sound reason to offer a wellness program from an operational perspective. Many studies, such as one from Kaiser Permanente, reflect that an employer’s direct medical costs (which purportedly account for 24 percent of costs) include medical, pharmaceutical and insurance costs. The indirect medical costs (which purportedly account for 76 percent of costs) include absenteeism, lost productivity, worker’s compensation, long term disability, overtime, replacement workers and staff turnover and training (not to mention morale). Other studies also show that there is likely a direct relationship between an active wellness program and the positive impact on both (direct and indirect) costs.
Furthermore, there is some uncertainty surrounding future healthcare plan designs (as impacted by insurance provider changes, the Affordable Care Act — ACA and federal legislation) as well as concerns about the challenges in managing increasing healthcare costs. By continuing to promote a culture of wellness and hopefully continuing to maintain the Well-City Award status each year through AWC, the city can impact their total direct medical insurance premium costs and indirect costs with the ultimate goal of happier and healthier employees overall.
Clearly the benefits of an employee wellness program cannot be understated. This year the committee is focused on creating more communications about the program benefits and branding efforts toward developing the organization’s wellness culture. The fact that employee lives (their very “well-being”) can be positively impacted in even small ways at work through wellness is a measurement of the success of the program at the city and a mission that the hard-working committee will continue to strive toward.
— By Mary Ann Hardie
City of Edmonds Human Resources Director