Published on: January 5, 2009Excellent piece in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled “Corporate Wellness, Safeway-Style,” which looks at the newest steps taken by the food retailer as it re-engineers its employee health care programs, described as having the dual goal of cutting costs and creating a healthier workforce through a more prevention-driven approach that emphasizes employee responsibility.
The Chronicle writes, “Beyond routine health matters like flu shots, Pap smears and prostate checks, prevention is not the starting point for most employer-based insurance plans. Unlike setting a broken arm or taking out an inflamed appendix, the health benefits of making lifestyle changes are a lot like the dog that doesn't bark in the night. It's hard to measure the savings from crises that don't happen because people are getting into better physical shape … Safeway's market-based approach for its nonunion administrative employees gives price breaks for practicing what the company preaches. The newest part of the plan, called Healthy Measures, just went into effect on Jan. 1. This program gives employees reductions in their insurance premiums if they are, and stay, within certain limits on four common medical risk factors - smoking, obesity, blood pressure and cholesterol.
“Rebates for making the grade on all four risk factors total nearly $800 a year for an individual employee, plus a similar amount for the employee's spouse or partner. Tests were administered last summer for those employees participating in the rebate plan; tests for significant others will be phased in by 2010.
“People who tested within the limits got lower health premiums at the outset of this year, while those who missed one or more of the four goals can get a retroactive rebate if they improve sufficiently by the end of the year.”
- KC's View:
- What fascinates me about the Safeway approach is that it seems far more holistic than a lot of programs. For example, the story notes that as the company encourages employees to hit the gym, “eight visits to the gym equals one free lunch in the cafeteria, where offerings and presentations have been revised to reflect the policy of paying more attention to health … At first glance, the cafeteria, which the company subsidizes, has the appearance of the deli department of a Safeway in a ritzy neighborhood. There are soup, salad and sandwich bars. Some hot foods are premade, while others are cooked to order. There are cases of cold drinks and snack foods by the cash registers.
“But a second look shows that attention is being paid to better eating habits. Signs give portion size, calorie count, cholesterol and fiber count - though not sodium content - along with the price of each prepared food. The pasta is whole wheat, and nothing is deep-fried. There are a couple of high-fat offerings, such as pizza, as well as bargain meals … At the salad bar, calories are posted for each type of dressing. The drinks cooler is filled with milk, juices and flavored waters, with Coke and Pepsi confined to one bottom shelf. The snacks near the pay stations are fresh fruit, energy bars or low fat chips.”
And, “tucked into a corner of the cafeteria, behind a partition for privacy, is an ‘assessment center,’ a high-tech station for measuring blood pressure, weight and body mass index. Employees can log in, create personal accounts and keep track of their records.”
This is like connecting the dots. And it is very smart.
There probably are some people who think that Safeway’s approach is intrusive and dictatorial, but I believe that a company has a right to expect that the employees in which it is investing time, money and energy also are investing in themselves – an maintaining a level of good health seems like a small thing to ask. In today’s economic environment, when every creative, financial and human advantage needs to be implemented in order to be competitive, it is not just a small thing to ask, but ought to be requisite at more companies.