Healthier employees help districts save money. In an age of soaring health care costs and high teacher turnover, successful wellness programs can also boost productivity by reducing sick days and helping staff manage stress on the job.
So, how can administrators design wellness programs that staff members want to join—particularly those employees who aren’t inclined to getting regular exercise?
It’s more than 5K fun runs and weight-loss challenges. Today, more schools provide a variety of services—from flu shots and exercise classes to biometric screenings and chronic disease management. Follow these basics when developing and managing your wellness program:
1. Learn your employees’ needs
Make sure the program matches employees’ needs: As planning gets underway, survey employees about what they want to achieve: Ways to save on out-of-pocket costs? Incentives to get active? Help managing chronic diseases?
For example, in Colorado, the Poudre School District’s comprehensive wellness program—run in partnership with the University of Colorado and a local health provider— acts as a valuable recruiting tool in a health-conscious state, says Ashley Schwader, the district’s wellness manager. The district provides employees with:
- Health and fitness assessments
- Access to exercise classes
- Mental health services
- Help for people with chronic diseases
2. Think beyond healthy food and fitness
Would employees benefit more from learning strategies to reduce stress or manage their time? Think about the whole person—don’t limit your wellness program to diet and exercise. For example: Polk County Public Schools in Florida partnered with a local mammography center to increase the number of employees getting regular breast cancer screenings from 6 percent to 85 percent.
Read more from DA: Making school wellness programs work
Polk County also holds classes on financial management to help employees cope with the stress of having enough money for necessary expense
3. Be realistic
Even the best wellness program won’t turn everyone into marathon runners. That’s OK. Look for small steps that are attainable and will make a difference.
Polk County’s diabetes management series—which comprises classes, exams, support groups and no co-pays on medication—increased by 43 percent the participants who reported following their medication schedules.
4. Make it easy to use
Time-consuming, complicated, hard-to-access programs won’t attract much interest. Keep ease of access at the forefront when planning your wellness program.
Poudre School District’s walk-in health clinic—which is free for employees and dependents on the district’s health plan—is located in a local shopping center and is open after school and on weekends. “Ease of access is huge,” says Schwader, the wellness manager.
In October 2016, for instance, the clinic logged about 740 visits from district employees and their dependents at a cost of about $73,900. Based on the average cost of an office visit and prescription at a primary care provider in the area, those 740 visits would have cost $132,100 elsewhere.
When The Slinger School District in Wisconsin switched to a high deductible health insurance plan in 2013, it began subscribing to HealthiestYou, a telemedicine service that connects users to doctors via a smartphone app to diagnose and issue prescriptions, no appointment or co-pay required. The district’s health care costs have remained steady, providing funds for salary increases.
5. Promote it
Ask yourself what’s more likely to resonate, a mass email or a five-minute presentation from a manger? Make sure employees know what is available to them.
Polk County constantly promotes its wellness services at health fairs, on Facebook and in a monthly newsletter—a recent story featured a man who lost 45 pounds with help from the wellness staff.
6. Get feedback
After a few months, check in with employees. What do they like? What hasn’t caught on? Always look for ways to improve.