Unhealthy workers cost companies more money, so bosses are looking for ways get employees to give up their bad habits.
Marketplace Money is airing a special episode from WHYY in Philadelphia this week, focusing on our region’s status as a health care center. WHYY-NewsWorks’ health and science team is contributing stories to the show, including this from reporter Taunya English.
Unhealthy workers cost companies more money, so bosses are looking for ways get employees to give up their bad habits. At Campbell Soup, the company’s cooked up a friendly competition. It pits factory workers in Texas against tomato processors in California and the folks at headquarters in Camden, NJ. No, Campbell isn’t looking for the next amazing chicken noodle recipe, or a way to persuade people to eat soup for breakfast.The contest is over which site can get the most workers to take an online health-risk assessment. If enough people fill out the survey about their health habits and lifestyle, everyone in the group gets a $50 gift card.Some lucky winners will get a year of free health insurance. And then, there’s bragging rights.“Not only will they get a trophy, which is actually a very coveted award, it’s kind of like the Stanley Cup of annual enrollment, we pass it from plant to plant each year,” said Jan Kelly. Her team creates incentive programs.At Campbell, the nudging never stops. There are prizes for working out and stickers point to the healthiest choices in the vending machine. At the company cafeteria apples and oranges are stacked up beside the cash register. If you skip the french fries in favor of a small salad, you’ll save a dollar. I caught up with John Faulkner at one of Campbell’s morning health fairs. The 52-year-old was getting his middle measured and his cholesterol checked. Last year, he was told his body fat was too high. He dropped more than 30 pounds.“Candidly, my wife started hitting me over the side of the head, and said: ‘We have to really go after this.’ It was a real team effort. She makes Egg Beaters in the morning for me and was sending me in with a salad for lunch,” Faulkner said.At Campbell’s sleek new fitness center, Amanda Hershon hits the treadmill right after work. Hershon, a communications specialist, started exercising and eating better two years ago. “I was just at a size 12, I was just trying to make the decision, as to whether or not I was going to leave my pants open when I was sitting down, the button, the fly. It was really bad, I didn’t want to keep buying new clothes,” Hershon said.Now Hershon’s a bit of a fitness celebrity. She was written up in the company newsletter and won $500 in cash.Campbell’s health strategy isn’t all carrots. There are also the sticks. “If you are a tobacco user, there is a $20 per month surcharge that you will pay for participating in our medical plan,” Jan Kelly said.But the fee is waived if you complete a smoke enders class.Not all the payoffs require sweating or counting calories. Employees considering an elective operation like a knee replacement or weight loss surgery can earn a $200 gift card simply by discussing their treatment options with a nurse or counselor. The program is voluntary and it’s run by an independent medical information company. Kelly said about 25 percent of people decide not to have the operation or opt for less invasive, less costly, treatment after discussing their alternatives.Medical ethicist Arthur Caplan said workers do need better information about which doctors and hospitals have the best track record. Still he’s wary.“The last person I want to trust for my advice about those things is the person who’s going to pay most of the bill. So, there is an inherent conflict of interest if the sole source of information coming in workplace based programs are the people who are trying to tamp the cost down,” Caplan said.Caplan leads the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, he also is worried about how those health assessments get used. “If things get tough at the company and they’ve got to start sorting through the workforce in a more aggressive way to let people go, I wouldn’t be so sure that they might not be reaching for that file cabinet of who’s really the least healthy amongst us,” Caplan said.Kelly said Campbell is strict about keeping worker information private.So with all Campbell’s nudging, are any of the incentives working?The experts aren’t sure and Amanda Hershon said, for her, the promise of a gift card didn’t make much of an impression.“You know maybe there was a raffle, I’m not really sure. If there was one that’s not really motivated me in the least bit,” Hershon said.It may be that keeping your wife off your case, or wanting to fit into your favorite jeans, works about as well as anything your company is doing.
Listen to Marketplace Money’s special Philadelphia show at 3 p.m. Saturday on WHYY, 90.9 FM. For more Web extra coverage, visit Marketplace’s Web site. Marketplace’s health reporter, Greg Warner, is based at WHYY.