America's Healthiest Companies discover the power of wellness

Good health won&t enable your employees to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but it will certainly draw out peak job performance. That&s the message from the Wellness Councils of America&s annual award winners.


America's Healthiest Companies

Discover the power of wellness

Good health won't enable your employees to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but it will certainly draw out peak job performance. That's the message from the Wellness Councils of America's annual award winners.

By David Hunnicutt, PhD

Jump to:Choose article section... Message #1: Message #2: Message #3: Message #4: Message #5: America’s Healthiest Companies 2000About WELCOA and these awards

In the new economy, it pays to be healthy—that much is a given. But, what does it actually require to keep an organization's employees healthy and productive? For these answers, we look at the newest initiates to an elite group known as America's Healthiest Companies.

The list of 146 designees—68 Bronze, 31 Silver, 44 Gold and 3 Platinum—represents a diverse group of companies. From Fortune 500s to health care systems to city governments to institutions of higher education, they include virtually every category of business and industry. What unites this year's cadre of Well Workplace Award winners? A common vision of linking employee health and well-being to organizational outcomes.

For this group, wellness is no longer centered on random activities, but instead on bottom-line results. These executives are freeing resources to build a competitive advantage, and they have five important messages for their peers in the business community.

Message #1:

Healthy companies understand that employees don't get—and stay—healthy by chance.

If there's anything we've learned from this year's winners, it's that America's Healthiest Companies leave nothing to chance when it comes to the well-being of their employees. They have affirmed the thinking that people get healthy when organizational wellness programs are created for the right reasons and in the right manner.

To that end, it is evident that employee wellness programs have gotten much more sophisticated within this year's class. Actually changing employee behavior demands a variety of proactive and well coordinated strategies, multiple delivery channels—including health information, group education, Inter/Intranet, peer support groups and personal counseling—and aggressive participation incentives.

Take, for example, Providence Everett Medical Center. Based in Everett, Wash., the center incents eligible employees with cash rewards of $250-$325 to get them involved in their "Wellness Challenge" program. Says CEO Ray Crerand: "I wanted a mechanism to target people who won't, don't or can't find the time to be healthier." By taking this approach, Providence Everett's program has attracted over 52 percent of its 2,700 employees to participate and earned a 3:1 return on investment over the last nine years.

Message #2:

Healthy companies recognize that keeping knowledge workers healthy requires new approaches.

The second important message delivered by this year's class of America's Healthiest Companies is that keeping knowledge workers healthy and productive requires different approaches. Essentially, a "knowledge worker"—the phrase was coined by management guru Peter Drucker three decades ago—is an individual whose work is dependent upon the application of intellect rather than physical capability. These people now make up about 40 percent of the U.S. workforce. Their jobs are more sedentary than manual labor, and according to Drucker, they are more likely to see a need for educational opportunities throughout life.

How do America's Healthiest Companies translate that insight into action? According to The Gallup Organization—a Silver Well Workplace Award winner—their approach differs from traditional wellness interventions that attempt to minimize health risks by adding the broader concept of employee engagement with the company and the work at hand.

Jim Harter, Gallup's senior research director, states: "The cost of losing knowledge workers is tremendous, worth millions to most large organizations. To get employees engaged, they need to know what is expected of them, feel cared about, have opportunities to do what they do best and feel connected to co-workers they respect."

Although the approaches of mutual concern, connectedness and respect are profoundly different from traditional wellness interventions, it appears that if they are effectively integrated with these standard approaches, they can have a significant impact on the knowledge worker's health and productivity.

Gallup, for instance, promotes good health with traditional self-care literature, a 24-hour nurse line and on-line health management services. It attends to broader considerations of employee well-being with a concerted effort to match the knowledge worker's individual strengths with job requirements.

Gallup's main tool is its StrengthFinder survey, a personnel assessment instrument that has been refined over the course of 20-plus years. The survey explores 34 different "life themes"—recurrent patterns of thought, feeling and behavior—to determine which five constitute the individual's greatest personal and professional strengths. The themes are divided into four groups that deal with how a person relates to others, has an impact on the workplace, gets things done and comprehends the job at hand.

Matching talents to jobs makes it far more likely that people will enjoy their work, an acknowledged factor in personal health and well-being. It also engages the knowledge worker in tasks that need to be performed day in and day out, improving performance. Says Harter: "The engagement of knowledge workers results in productivity, profitability, customer loyalty and retention."

Message #3:

Healthy companies realize that maintaining a healthy workforce means investing hard dollars.

While many companies hesitate to allocate financial resources for workplace wellness initiatives, America's Healthiest are willing to invest significant dollars in pursuit of employee health. This is their third important message.

This message may seem profoundly obvious, but it is important to recognize that while many companies espouse the benefits of workplace wellness programs, few are willing to put their money where their mouths are. Indeed, according to Michael O'Donnell, editor in chief of the American Journal of Health Promotion, "most companies spend more money on carpet than they do on employee health and well-being." And this phenomenon is precisely what makes America's Healthiest Companies so special—they're willing to invest heavily in improving employee health and well-being.

Take, for example, Platinum Award winner Union Pacific Railroad, whose annual health promotion budget is $42.27 per eligible employee. This equates to a multimillion dollar investment on behalf of this Fortune 500 mainstay. According to Dennis Richling, assistant vice president of Health Services at Union Pacific, "it's a mistake for companies to believe that you can accomplish something for nothing. Sure, it's taken us years to build our budget for health promotion, but we knew when we started our program that without strategic investment, results were never going to happen."

Message #4:

Healthy companies understand that not everything that counts is countable.

Even though demonstrating tangible outcomes is essential in proving the value of any corporate health promotion program, this year's winners acknowledge that, at least in this phase of the game, not everything that counts is countable.

While researchers work to construct valid and reliable instruments to detect and measure concrete outcomes, smart companies embrace the intuitive wisdom of workplace wellness programs and the creative tension inherent in trying to demonstrate a program's value to upper management without the luxury of numerical proof. Making a great concept real in the eyes of the organization's stakeholders is not a short-term task.

Robert Ritz, president and CEO of Monongalia Health System, a Gold Well Workplace located in Morgantown, W.Va., says it best: "I think that as leaders of organizations we should encourage our staffs to be healthy members of our organizations both mentally and physically, because frankly we've seen a positive payback on how staffs feel about the organization, the commitment we make to them, and therefore the commitment they make to the customers they're caring for. It's not going to be a nuts and bolts financial calculation. It just makes good sense. It is inherently and intuitively correct for people to try and help their staffs feel better, be in better shape and, therefore, be a healthier member of the employee team."

Message #5:

Healthy companies absolutely acknowledge that the bottom line is the bottom line.

Perhaps the most overt message delivered by this year's class of America's Healthiest Companies is that the bottom line remains the bottom line. Workplace wellness programs are all about improving employee health and well-being and improving a company's financial position in the marketplace.

Consider once again the health improvements and return on investment of workplace wellness in a company like Union Pacific Railroad. With 50,000 plus employees, this Fortune 500 giant spends in excess of $550 million on all health care related concerns and $2.3 million on wellness, targeting such things as smoking cessation, fatigue management and obesity. Some 40 percent of UPRR employees used to smoke. Now the rate is down to 26 percent, and the savings are around $40 million. CEO Dick Davidson calls that "one hell of a return on investment."

But companies aren't simply satisfied with the annual bottom-line results. Some organizations are working with financial analysts to develop econometric forecasts to detect future impacts of wellness on the bottom line. In other words, can the value of wellness be expressed in a way that influences investors and share prices?

"All the right questions," admits Seagate Technologies Program Manager Michael Olson, "all the tough questions." The precise answers have yet to be found, but Olson points out that, at the very least, companies that manage employee health and well-being are less susceptible to damage from the continuing health care cost explosion.

David Hunnicutt is president of the Wellness Councils of America.


America’s Healthiest
Companies 2000

LocationNumber of employees
Highsmith Inc.Wisconsin300
Nebraska Methodist CollegeNebraska90
Union Pacific RailroadNebraska50,000
Ameritas Life Insurance CorporationNebraska1,000
Anheuser-Busch Inc., Jacksonville BreweryFlorida700
Blue Cross and Blue Shield NebraskaNebraska750
Branch Banking and Trust Company (Lifeforce)North Carolina20,216
Bryan LGH HospitalNebraska3,719
Charleston Area Medical CenterWest Virginia5,387
City of AmesIowa497
City of AustinTexas10,600
D.M.A.F.B. Davis Monthan Air Force Base Health & Wellness CenterArizona7,518
Fujitsu Network Communications Inc.Texas3,500
GMACNorth Carolina1,961
Good Samaritan Health SystemsNebraska1,550
Good Samaritan HospitalIllinois1,964
Grace HealthcareNorth Carolina1,174
Greater Omaha Packing Co. Inc.Nebraska650
Hamilton County GovernmentTennessee1,900
International Truck and Engine Corporation, Melrose ParkIllinois1,400
Kosciusko Community HospitalIndiana700
Logan Aluminum Inc.Kentucky1,000
Mercy Medical Center, ClintonIowa1,040
Monongalia Health SystemWest Virginia1,450
Ohio Valley Health Services & EducationWest Virginia1,843
Omaha/Council Bluffs YMCANebraska580
OSF Saint Francis Medical CenterIllinois4,100
Pfizer Global ManufacturingNebraska760
Phelps Memorial Health CenterNebraska175
Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc.Iowa3,500
Potomac Highlands Support ServicesWest Virginia61
Providence Everett Medical CenterWashington2,694
Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical CenterIllinois8,700
Saint Margaret Mercy Healthcare CentersIndiana3,283
SilverStone Group Inc.Nebraska160
Solutia Inc.Florida1,500
Syngenta (formerly Novartis)North Carolina1,121
Tanner Health SystemGeorgia1,650
Thomas Memorial HospitalWest Virginia1,200
United Way of the MidlandsNebraska50
University Medical CenterArizona2,600
University of ArizonaArizona10,000
University of the SouthTennessee500
West Virginia Rehabilitation CenterWest Virginia350
Westside Community Schools, District 66Nebraska854


About WELCOA and these awards

The nonprofit Wellness Councils of America, based in Omaha, Neb., has more than 2,000 member organizations located throughout North America plus 10 locally-affiliated community "Wellness Councils."

WELCOA has partnered with hundreds of corporations, hospitals, universities and government agencies to design, deliver and sustain comprehensive wellness initiatives that address employee health and well-being, productivity, safety and work/life issues.

Realizing that concrete and tangible results do not happen by accident, WELCOA has developed a seven-step approach to building worksite wellness programs. This systematic blueprint is known as the Well Workplace/Well City Initiatives. WELCOA also produces employee newsletters, brochures and special reports as well as sourcebooks on fundamentals of workplace health promotion, health fairs and related topics.

The WELCOA Consulting Group offers speakers, seminars and one-on-one coaching, comprehensive strategic planning, program evaluation to groups ranging from Fortune 500 companies to community business coalitions.

Since the Well Workplace Awards Initiative was launched 1991, WELCOA has recognized over 400 corporations, health care systems, public agencies and educational institutions—employing over one million people—as among "America's Healthiest Companies."

The awards are given at four levels:

• The Bronze Award recognizes companies that have obtained strong senior-level support, created integrated wellness teams, collected strategic organizational health data and are delivering tailored programs to meet their company's needs.

• The Silver Award recognizes companies that have met the Bronze-level standards and gone on to create organizational environments and policies to support employees' efforts to modify health risks and improve overall health and well-being.

• The Gold Award recognizes companies that have successfully built comprehensive worksite wellness initiatives and are demonstrating and capturing concrete outcomes related to behavior change, cost-effectiveness and return on investment.

• The Platinum Award, new this year, recognizes organizations that have achieved a Gold Well Workplace designation and are now forging new ground by linking health promotion objectives to business outcomes.

All applicants are reviewed by a prestigious group of health promotion professionals, dedicated to improved health and well-being on a national level. Each receives detailed analysis and feedback about its programs. The Well Workplace Awards communicate each organization's vision for a healthier, more productive future. America's Healthiest Companies have integrated health promotion into the way they do business. Healthy lifestyles are part of their corporate culture. National recognition as a member of an elite group validates these organization's health promotion efforts.

Whether small, medium or large, companies of all sizes are eligible to participate. For more information, contact the Wellness Councils of America at 402 827-3590 or visit their web site at .


David Hunnicutt. America's Healthiest Companies discover the power of wellness. Business and Health 2001;3:40.