Friday, May 19, 2006

Shape Up or Ship Out?

The trend in employee wellness programs? Making them mandatory.

Last fall, Bedard decided he'd had enough and he rolled out a tough new wellness program designed to force his 61 employees to live healthier lives. Each worker is required to get an annual on-site health assessment. Based on a number of indicators--including blood pressure, weight, physical activity, and cholesterol levels--the individuals are given a "wellness number" of up to 24. Those who improve their scores by at least three points a year, or maintain a score of 20 or more, will get a $500 bonus and extra days off. Smoking is now officially against Crown policy--even during off-hours--and nicotine levels are measured in the health assessment. Smokers have until January 2007 to kick the habit. If they don't, they'll have to start paying their own health insurance premiums.

Wellness programs have long been a part of corporate life. But they've almost always been voluntary. Now, with health care costs taking an ever bigger bite from the bottom line, incentives to participate are starting to look more like penalties for not playing along. In January 2005, Weyco, an employee benefits company in Okemos, Michigan, began firing all employees who smoke--even on their own time. Scotts Miracle-Gro, the gardening supplies maker, based in Marysville, Ohio, followed suit in December. "We're seeing more sticks being used," says David Steurer, membership director of the Wellness Councils of America, an advocacy group.

One reaction to expect: Employees asking for exercise time.

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