The Risk (Assessments) and Rewards of Wellness

By Heidi Bowman

In yesterday’s Advisor, Heidi Bowman, senior vice president and general manager of Weight Watchers® Health Solutions, presented key components to wellness success. Today, Bowman discusses risk assessments and the wellness bottom line.

Risk Assessments

According to Healthy Workforce 2010 and Beyond, by focusing energies on shifting the relative percentage of employees at moderate and high health risk to a lower-risk status, a company becomes healthier—and can achieve greater cost savings.

Even more important is keeping healthy employees healthy—this approach slows the migration of individuals to a higher-risk level and reduces the associated costs.

Healthy Workforce 2010 and Beyond recommends that companies making risk assessments take two critical steps:

  1. Use a health-risk appraisal system to establish baseline benchmarks for defining the risk distribution within the company.
  2. Observe the degree of movement between risk groups. Based on this, a company can address the following questions:
    • What percentage of our population is considered high-risk?
    • What are the most prevalent health-related risks within our population?
    • What are the relative costs related to each risk level?


Once these questions are answered, an organization can come to a clearer understanding of its risk profile and develop goals that align with this risk assessment. In fact, some companies tie in a referral program in which all individuals at moderate and high health risk immediately get referred to wellness programs that can manage the progression of a particular disease or an unhealthy habit.

The Bottom Line

There’s no doubt a wellness program positively influences the workplace population—but it also makes good business sense. Placing an emphasis on wellness programs during the open enrollment period puts companies on track to positive financial health in the near future.

The U.S. Surgeon General has also provided guidance on wellness programs, backing the prevention benefits they promote and stating that such strategies are often cost-effective and improve productivity.

Consider these statistics, provided by the U.S. Surgeon General, which make it clear why the prevention that a wellness program promotes is the best buy in employee—and corporate—health:

  • When employee health is poor, the indirect costs to employers—lower productivity, higher rates of disability, higher rates of injury, and more workers’ compensation claims—can be two to three times the costs of direct medical expenses.
  • A 1% reduction in weight, blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol risk factors would save $83 to $103 annually in medical costs per person.
  • Medical costs are reduced by approximately $3.27 for every dollar spent on workplace wellness programs, according to a recent study.
  • Absenteeism costs are reduced by approximately $2.73 for every dollar spent on workplace wellness programs, according to a recent study.


So here’s the bottom line: Working a wellness strategy into your open enrollment plan puts your company in line to produce a healthier, happier workforce, with any short-term costs being more than recouped in the long run. Your employees, and your company’s bottom line, will thank you for taking a holistic approach.