Audio Transcript: The Health Plan Edge 006, Creating a Culture of Wellness

Steve Strauss:  Welcome to The Health Plan Edge, the podcast that makes it easier for small businesses to navigate health insurance. I'm your host, Steve Strauss, USA Today's small business columnist and author of The Small Business Bible.

Steve Strauss:  In each episode we share real small business stories and strategies that make health plan decisions easier for you.

Steve Strauss:  [00:00:30] Today's topic is how do I foster a culture of wellness? And is wellness even important? I have two great guests with me. First is Robert Horton. Robert has been helping small business owners design plans that work for them for over 20 years while working at UnitedHealthcare. Also with me is Jill Lipset, who co-owns The Power House, a family owned and a family run gym in St. Paul. Jill and her husband, Max, started The Power House in 2013 [00:01:00] with the goal of creating a space for families to become their healthiest and best selves.

Steve Strauss:  So Robert let me start with you. Why should small businesses even promote wellness?

Robert Horton:  I think one of the biggest reasons, Steve, is that there's value in it for them. We see that small employers report that healthier employees actually show up to work more often. They're more productive and they don't see their physician quite as often. So a wellness plan can help you attract and retain [00:01:30] employees. And all this is gonna lead to increased productivity and potentially a decrease in overall healthcare costs for your firm and that could have an impact on your bottom line.

Robert Horton:  The other thing that we see is most people that are working in a small business say that there's more of a family-like environment than there is at a large corporation. And these wellness programs have flourished in small business because they really tap into that and they support the sense that the employer and the boss really cares about those employees as actual individuals.

Steve Strauss:  [00:02:00] You know I couldn't agree with you more. I think one of the greatest things about a wellness program, aside from the wellness, is that you're creating a culture of health and you're creating a culture of positivity and you're creating just a great culture for your small business. And that's the kind of business that you want to create and that's the kind of business where people want to come work.

Steve Strauss:  I'm sure, Jill, that's what you found. In fact, can you just tell us a little bit about your business and how wellness culture fits in, which obviously is a big [00:02:30] thing to you.

Jill Lipset:  Yes. Thanks Steve and thanks for having me on today. So you're correct. Wellness is really at the very heart and soul of our business. The Power House is a health and wellness company and we're based in the Twin Cities. Our gyms are really focused around family and connection and community. And then we have this whole other side to our business where we go out into the community and we work with different small businesses, mid-sized businesses. Even some [00:03:00] big organizations like The Pipe Fitters and Plumbers Union of Minnesota, which covers over 15,000 lives in the metro area.

Jill Lipset:  And so we really work with the leadership at these businesses and organizations to see what their culture is, their existing culture, what matters to them. And kind of where they want to go. Wellness is such a great way to put culture [00:03:30] in the, kind of front and center and make it a really positive thing. It's not just working out or health from a kind of typical sense. It's really looking at that big picture and life satisfaction and vitality and having people really engaged in that discussion.

Steve Strauss:  So you actually create wellness programs for other small businesses and other businesses.

Jill Lipset:  We do.

Steve Strauss:  Jill, given your expertise [00:04:00] in this field I'm wondering if you could tell us what sort of benefits you see for both the business and for the employees by creating a wellness program.

Jill Lipset:  So all small businesses, I believe, really want to create a positive, vibrant culture. And doing that for their employees to create a wellness program not only benefits your employees, but it also really works from a business sense and the bottom line. You're going to really [00:04:30] become a, kind of have that competitive edge when you're trying to attract good talent into your business and there's maybe a, similar types of businesses that people could work with. If you've got some of those added benefits, you have maybe a workout facility onsite, that is a great thing when everybody is so pressed for time these days and for someone to be able to take advantage of that during their workday that means a lot to a lot of people. And [00:05:00] knowing that people are going to be taken care of from a work/life balance. I think we all know a lot about the changing demographics of the workforce and kind of more of a millennial mentality. People are looking for those added benefits, things that are gonna give them some of those extra perks and wellness makes a big difference.

Jill Lipset:  Then also just looking at health insurance claims and paying for medication.

Steve Strauss:  Right.

Jill Lipset:  A lot [00:05:30] of times you're paying the most for employees that are potentially not as healthy as others and finding ways to help them get better lifestyle habits. Almost all chronic diseases can be prevented through lifestyle changes. And so helping your employees to find those programs and those options to eat better, exercise more, sleep better, manage their stress, not only do you have a more productive, more [00:06:00] satisfied workforce, but you're also most likely from what we've seen, saving a lot of money as well.

Steve Strauss:  Robert, that leads me to the next question for you. What sort of proof is there that a wellness program is worth the effort?

Robert Horton:  Wellness programs really do promote health. At least that's among the people that actually participate in those particular programs. There's been some recent surveys out there that indicate that more than half of the employees with access [00:06:30] to a wellness program through the workplace indicate that, that program has actually made a positive impact on their health. And not only that, 30% report that it helped them actually detect a specific disease, which is huge.

Steve Strauss:  Wow! That's huge.

Robert Horton:  There's some recent surveys that indicates 62% of all employees state that a wellness initiative actually translated into improved productivity for them. So once again, there's big impact for the individual employees as well as the employer itself.

Steve Strauss:  Those are really some compelling [00:07:00] stats. One thing I believe in for small business when trying something new whether it's a wellness program or a marketing campaign, is to start small. You start small. You test. You see what works. You see what doesn't work. And then once you kind of iron out the kinks you can really roll it out bigger. So let me ask this question to you, to both of you, and I will start with you Jill. How can a company start small with regard to a wellness [00:07:30] program?

Jill Lipset:  Great question and I completely agree. There's so, so, so many ways that you can start really small. So kind of find ... There's so many different things that you can focus on with wellness. Stress management, exercise, nutrition, the list goes on and on. And figuring out what really lights up your team is a great first step. And then I would bring that down to your employees. You know, really starting some conversations, finding [00:08:00] out what is, what are the things that they're struggling with and what are the things that they would be really excited about because I think that there are a lot of ways to kind of check that box. Like oh yes, we do wellness initiatives, but is it really what your employees are needing and wanting. So kind of establishing some assessments and finding out what really your group needs and wants.

Jill Lipset:  And then from there, there are so many things that you can do that really [00:08:30] are small and don't potentially even cost a lot of money. If stress potentially is really weighing people down? Is there some office space that you can turn into a good quiet room or meditation room that is a place that people can go and just take a couple minutes to kind of get away from their, whatever stress is weighing them down. Little things like that. Can you implement some [00:09:00] walking meetings instead of the constant sitting all day long? Can you change out things in your vending machine and, for healthier options?

Steve Strauss:  Those are some great tips. You see? And that's why we're bringing people The Health Plan Edge. Robert what about you? Can you tell us some tips and strategies for starting small and seeing how to implement a wellness program?

Robert Horton:  Yeah, I mean the first thing I'd do is would echo Jill's comments around [00:09:30] there being engagement at the leadership level within a group in creating that culture of wellness. And talking the talk and walking the walk at the same time. Small employers could do things as small as just handing out pedometers to their employees and having some contest around who can hit 10,000 steps a day. There's health risk assessments that they could have their employees complete. There's other [00:10:00] materials and education opportunities that they could do to get their population engaged, but it's all about it being a visible culture within that company for it to be successful over time.

Steve Strauss:  So Robert how expense or inexpensive is it to initiate and start a wellness program?

Robert Horton:  There's some great news there, Steve, for small employers. A lot of the plans that are out there marketed today to small employers actually include value [00:10:30] adds from a wellness perspective in their plan design. And these could be programs to help employees quit smoking. Programs to help employees lose weight. Programs to help employees have access to a nurse line. Things of that nature. So their basically embedded, included in their policy, no extra fees. It's just a matter of promoting those capabilities to their employees.

Steve Strauss:  Well it seems to me that small business really [00:11:00] may be the next wave of wellness. I just think given the family-like atmosphere of a small business and how the whole team feels like a family, wellness programs really fit well within that kind of culture.

Steve Strauss:  And I hate to say we are running out of time. So I hope people learned a lot and we've answered your questions about wellness. Jill, thank you so much for being with us today.

Jill Lipset:  Thank you.

Steve Strauss:  And Robert, thank you so [00:11:30] much for this great conversation.

Robert Horton:  My pleasure.

Steve Strauss:  From all of us here at The Health Plan Edge, thank you for listening.

Steve Strauss:  And thank you to UnitedHealthcare for making this recording possible. If you enjoyed today's show or if you have questions about health insurance in your business, head over to to checkout their free resources for small businesses, to listen to another episode or to continue the conversation. We look forward to hearing from you.