In terms of marketing initiatives, $10,000 doesn’t always go far. But when Arizona State Credit Union ($1.3B, Phoenix, AZ) launched its Wellness For Life program for 300-hundred-plus employees in 2007, that small dollar amount was all it had to work with.
“We created the program from scratch and it began modestly,” says Yvonne Ross, vice president of human resources, whose four-person team researched, organized, and pitched the program to the credit union’s board and executive team in 2006.
“We knew we couldn’t do this for one year and then just drop off the face of the earth,” she says. “It had to be sustainable.”
More than a half-decade later, approximately 98% of the current 400-plus employee workforce takes part in the program. And although the once-meager budget for the program has swelled nearly 14 fold, in all respects the credit union sees the program as an investment, not an expense.
“The only real goal starting out was to give our associates the tools and resources to achieve a healthier lifestyle,” Ross says. Arizona State achieved that and more. It earned a rapid return in its staff operations, including improved productivity, less absenteeism, and higher retention. The program also provides an outstanding long-term financial benefit.
The credit union realized roughly $350,000 in pure cost savings in 2010, a direct result of the program’s impact on health insurance claims and premiums. This was followed by similar results in 2011, with only a minor, single-digit increase in premiums taking place that year.
“This program has had a significant impact on one of our largest costs” Ross says. “A claim analysis of conditions associated with poor lifestyle choices revealed the actual savings to us, so it was kind of a surprise reward.”
But Ross cautions credit unions to not expect a dollar ROI with wellness programs right away, particularly with a self-funded insurance plan.
“Initially, it’s going to cost you money,” she says, adding it took nearly three years to record a financial benefit even though the impact on employees quality of life was immediate. “In relation to preventative care medicine, these programs will increase your wellness visits and utilization.”
The core of the Wellness For Life program is a free, annual health screening that exposes any potential warning signs and encourages employees to proactively think about their lifestyle choices.
“The screenings are on-site, so they don’t even have to leave work to get their numbers” Ross says. Individuals’ health-related data is also accessible anytime from home via the credit union’s personalized HR website.
A series of voluntary campaigns, activities, and outsider speakers moves employees to take action. The programs change themes every 10 weeks, from weight management, to stress education, to home and family-life issues. “We always have to add more classes because they are so popular,” Ross says.
Initially, the credit union offered activities such as yoga classes in the branches, but attempting to outfit and maintain workout stations at more than 21 locations was not practical. As an alternative, the credit union reimburses employees for up to 80% of the cost for gym membership, exercise classes, or other approved physical activity that takes place at least three times a week. The percentage covered might decrease for high-cost options, such as personal training services, but Arizona State’s system gives employees the ability to select the activities that speak to them and still receive support from the credit union, Ross says. “Everyone chooses something different, that’s what innovative about it.”
There’s also a dietary component that provides meals from Weight Watchers.
“Healthy living is contagious,” Ross says. “Employees see their peers who have lost 40-plus pounds, and they want to get involved. The response has been phenomenal.”
The credit union provides avenues for employees that want to showcase their achievements, share their story, or compete against one other, but it also careful to respect the choice of employees who want to set and benchmark their goals privately.
“In the HR department, we’re servicing our employee base and they’re serving our members, so it’s important we take good care of them,” Ross says.