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The Payoffs of Rewarding Employees for Being Healthy

By: Dona DeZube

Back in college, did you have a favorite chair in the student lounge? It may well have come from KI, a Wisconsin-based contract furniture manufacturer whose products are erasing the traditional design divides between home, workplace, and school interiors.

The employee-owned company has also blurred the lines between healthcare and the workplace wellness through an innovative program that rewards employees for being healthy — or working towards better health.

KI CEO Dick Resch

KI’s CEO, Dick Resch (above) is the architect of its health and wellness program. At 78 years of age, Dick is an avid cyclist. Since the 1980’s his goal has been keeping insurance premiums below the national average.

The result is a workplace wellness program that reflects the company’s Furnishing Knowledge byline.

Boosting Healthy Behaviors
Rather than demand that workers be healthy, KI offers financial incentives and workplace supports to boost healthy behaviors that are integrated into the company culture

KI Employee Salad Bar

Lunchtime work outs in the company gym are accepted; healthy salad bar options are available in the cafeteria, as is advice from on-site health coaches; a KI wellness team plans fun fitness events. 

“The biggest one we did was a Biggest Loser contest with teams,” says KI Benefit Manager Jodi McWilliams. “We used a plant scale and every week they went out as a team and weighed themselves.” A popular month-long fitness bingo competition encouraged healthy behaviors like drinking five glasses of water a day. Each year, there’s an annual walking day where employees wear fitness clothes to work. “One year we did a scavenger hunt walking the trails at lunch,” McWilliams says.

KI also offers financial rewards like a $250 race reimbursement for charitable runs, walks, bike races, or triathlons, and a $100 stay-healthy benefit that pays for gym memberships.

Greater Health, Greater Savings
The largest financial rewards come via KI’s health insurance plan, which includes a company-funded health savings account (HSA), plus shared premiums. KI calculates the employee’s share of the premium based on a health assessment measuring tobacco use, blood pressure, and body mass index (BMI), plus laboratory blood tests for cholesterol and glucose.

Each of KI’s 1,400 employees gets a score from the screening with points added for healthy outcomes, like low blood pressure, and subtracted for health risks, like tobacco use. The more points an employee receives, the less they pay for health insurance. A single employee with a high score on the health assessment can get the gold (best) insurance plan for as little as $2 a paycheck plus a $3,000 annual deductible.

Focus on Health, Not Punishment
Because the goal of KI’s wellness program is improved health, employees have opportunities to boost their scores and lower their insurance premiums. Overweight? KI will spring for the first three months of a Weight Watchers program and add back any points lost for a high BMI. Fail to finish, however, and you foot the bill yourself.

By far, the biggest point losses accrue to employees who smoke or chew tobacco. “If you’re a tobacco user, you score a negative 60 points on a scale of 100, and non-tobacco users get 20 points, so if you’re a tobacco user, you’ve lost 80 points,” McWilliams explains. Anyone who goes through the tobacco cessation program gets their points reinstated each year regardless of whether they continue to use tobacco.

The same philosophy applies to all the health conditions uncovered by the wellness assessment. No one forces anyone to do anything other than attending an activity. "It isn't results-based. By just completing one of the three-month health and wellness programs, they can better themselves for the year," McWilliams says.

Perhaps the sweetest benefit is that all the money in an HSA goes with employees who retire or move to a new company. That might be a nice little nest egg – good news for retirees whose healthy lifestyle might lead to a longer life and a longer retirement to pay for.