As more organizations get serious about incentivizing employee behaviors, it was only a matter of time before employee wellness became a target. Because of the skyrocketing cost of health care, encouraging employees to be healthier is not only good for their well-being, but it's also good for the company's bottom line, producing health-care savings that can be passed on to employees.

As an example, Maritz Inc., the world's largest incentive company, headquartered just outside St. Louis, recently announced a wellness program for its employees called Healthy Frontiers in conjunction with its health-care provider, Denver-based Great-West Healthcare. With a target participation rate of 40 percent of eligible employees, the program offers a smorgasbord of information, support tools, and activities via a Web portal. Each activity can earn participants points that become integrated with Maritz's Exclusively Yours points system. Employees can redeem their points for upscale merchandise and experiences from the company's 2,000-item catalog.

The wellness program supports two major strategies for the organization: wellness/prevention and education/consumer awareness. “Although there is potential for a significant positive impact on our health-care costs, our real goal is to motivate people to engage: to learn more about health risk factors that affect them and to make changes to their lifestyle that can improve the quality of their lives,” says Sherry Ward, vice president of benefits for Maritz.

Participants can choose from a variety of six-week programs, each designed to help them adopt healthy habits. All information is confidential to participants, who can track their progress via the web portal. There's online access to registered nurses around the clock, or a health coach as needed along the way. Results from lab tests, for example, are sent directly to employees, helping to assure privacy.

With a significant increase in heart disease, one of the leading killers today; a 70 percent increase in diabetes in people 30-40 years old during the 1990s (which leads to a four times higher risk of heart attack); and an estimated 30 million individuals with undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes in the U.S., perhaps it's time for organizations to help employees take responsibility and control of their health. Incentivizing a wellness initiative could do just that.

For more information on Healthy Frontiers, contact Great-West Healthcare at www.MyGreatWest.com.

Bob Nelson, PhD, is president of Nelson Motivation Inc.; a frequent presenter to management teams and conferences; and a best-selling author of several books, including 1001 Ways to Reward Employees and The Management Bible.

Support Tools

Maritz and Great-West Healthcare offer many wellness support tools that earn participants points. A few:

Blood screening: 25 points

Personalized health assessment: 10 points

Monthly seminars: 1 point each. Examples: nutrition information (including planning a lunch or eating out at a restaurant) and a virtual trainer to help participants plan an exercise regimen

Monthly challenges: 5 points each. Examples: “Strive for 5!” which focuses on eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily; “Chill Out,” which focuses on practicing four healthful behaviors to better manage stress; and “Maintain, Don't Gain,” aimed at warding off weight gain

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