Sitting around all day at a computer is notoriously bad for your health, but employees at Somerset County businesses will have access to a website that can help make them fitter this year. The Somerset County Business Partnership is teaming up with Health Options Worldwide to offer free access to HOW’s software, which is designed to help workers find a healthier lifestyle both at home and at work.
The Workplace Wellness Program is being offered for free to all small to mid-sized businesses that are members of the SCBP. To register, go online to www.scbp.org or call Takeena Deas at 908-218-4300.
Clark Lagemann, founder of Health Options Worldwide says the Somerset-based Health Intelligence website at www.myhint.co, is designed to help individuals make better decisions about their health. It works by giving employees a three-minute health quiz, then recommending actions based on their answers. For example, if they report eating lots of sugary food and being overweight, the site might suggest they see a doctor to determine their risk for diabetes.
Mostly though, it’s about encouraging employees to take advantage of the preventative care that most insurance plans already offer. “We pay so much for health insurance, but we don’t take full advantage of it,” Lagemann says. “What if people treated car insurance the same way? Suppose Geico offered free oil changes and tire rotations as part of their car insurance plans. You would say, ‘Oh my God, this is the greatest insurance in the world.’ Yet, health insurance usually covers checkups, flu vaccines, and mammograms, but we’re not taking advantage of it. It should be just a no brainer.”
It is through an odd quirk of history that employers wound up being responsible for the well-being of their workers. During World War II, there was an employee shortage due to the war effort, so workers were in high demand. Companies needed to attract workers, but the government had put a cap on wages. So instead, they started offering fringe benefits, like health insurance, which also happened to be tax-exempt.
Now, although no one intended it to be this way, most Americans get their health insurance through their employer. This puts employers in a position of having several financial incentives to promote the good health of their workforce.
“They’re the ones paying the bills,” Lagemann says. “Also, they have to be concerned if employees are out of work. They’re out the productivity of that employee.” Then there’s the all-consuming nature of many full-time jobs, which require long hours. “Sometimes, we know our co-workers better than our wives. That’s what my wife always tells me,” he says.
Since employers find themselves in the un-asked-for, paternalistic position of being healthcare providers, and with insurance premiums always rising, many have turned to wellness companies like HOW to help make their workers less prone to disease.
With the nature of modern offices, that can be an uphill battle. Many desk jobs are sedentary, which study after study has shown is terrible for anyone’s health. Sitting for long periods of time is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and other life-threatening conditions. Lagemann spends a lot of time thinking of ways to combat this lethal lethargy.
Sometimes, the answer comes in a technological form. Lagemann is a fan of the Jawbone wireless wristband, a $130 fitness tracker you wear on your wrist. The bracelet tracks your steps, sleep, and calories, and can be programmed to buzz to remind you to get up and walk around if you sit in the same place for too long. “It’s a really cool way to encourage fitness,” Lagemann says.
There are other, low-tech ways to change offices to make them better places to work, he says. One is to have “walking meetings” instead of the kind where you sit around a table, maybe with donuts in the middle. A walking meeting can get heart rates up and blood flowing, Lagemann says. If you use a cell phone, you could do the same while you take a phone call.
Lagemann has been in the business since he founded his company in 2008. Lagemann, 33, grew up in Union. His father does risk management for the YMCA and his mother is a nurse. He studied business at Rutgers, and spent 10 years as a pharmaceutical sales rep before starting his own company.
He has seen that different workplaces respond differently to workplace wellness programs. “Employees at big companies tend to see it as Big Brother pushing another health initiative,” he says. “Small companies, where they don’t have the same resources or benefits, are different. They say, ‘Wow, this is cool. I have a website to manage my health and it’s free.’”
One small company that takes worker health seriously, unsurprisingly, is Health Options Worldwide. At Lagemann’s seven-person company, post-lunch ping-pong games, walking meetings, after-hours fitness clubs, and taking the stairs are the order of the day.
Lagemann is a health nut for a reason. In his previous career as a pharmaceutical representative, he was often in hospitals, where he saw firsthand the ramifications of being unhealthy. “I saw people’s chests cracked open, having open-heart surgery done. I saw people with end-stage prostate cancer because they didn’t have any prevention earlier,” he says. “I was motivated to have better health management and to help individuals do the right things today so they can see their grandkids grow up. Millions of people die from preventable disease and if they had been roped into the healthcare system earlier on, it could have been prevented.”
Lagemann believes the common sense advice from his website could help save lives. “Everyone views healthcare as being so complicated and confusing, but it could be that simple steps can equate to massive results,” he says.