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Strengthening wellness culture

Seven ways university employees benefit from CMU’s wellness rewards program

Contact: Erick Fredendall


​With new data showing more productivity, better health and lower health care costs, the Central Michigan University employee wellness rewards program has come a long way.

Now four years into its partnership, Virgin Pulse and CMU recently joined forces to produce one of the most comprehensive, data-driven studies of a university wellness program conducted by the company, which provides similar services for more than 3,000 employers globally.

"We're human beings, so what helps us be the best people that we can be ultimately benefits the university and the students we serve." — Tammy Griffin, manager of CMU's health and wellness program

"We are ahead of the curve," said Tammy Griffin, manager of CMU's health and wellness program. "When comparing our numbers to other employers that use Virgin Pulse's services, we're in great shape. It's the reason they approached us for a study."

Virgin Pulse analysts worked with CMU's Human Resources team to collect university data such as health care claims, work injuries, absenteeism, promotions and separations. They paired these institutional insights with data gathered by the Virgin Pulse wellness program from 2014-16.

The results found that participants in the wellness rewards program are adopting healthy habits and seeing returns on time invested. They also revealed a trend: despite having a higher-than-average participation rate for members, it's common for employees to drop off in a short period of time following enrollment.

That's the next challenge Griffin and her team aim to overcome.

"It's never too late to get involved in the program," Griffin said. "Through research, we know that employees who participate are sick less often and are more productive, innovative and focused. Added together, it makes them more capable of providing outstanding services for our students."

If that isn't persuasive enough, here are seven ways CMU employees benefit from the Virgin Pulse wellness program:

1. Participation and healthy weight go hand in hand.

When the program started back in 2014, the average step count for participants was below 7,000.

Now? It's over 9,000. 

Virgin Pulse analysts found that for every 1 percent increase in steps by CMU participants, average body mass index decreases more than half a point, all else being equal.

2. More participation equals fewer and less expensive claims.

CMU spends, on average, around 12 percent less on health care claims for participants than for nonparticipants. Virgin Pulse found that the reduction strongly correlates to individuals' levels of activity, which tends to increase if they are active users of the wellness rewards program.

In addition to the benefits of increased activity, users are more likely to regularly monitor their health — meaning they are less likely to make an expensive claim. Fewer claims made during a year can lead to lower health care costs universitywide. 

The study also found a clear reduction in the number of injuries in people participating in the program.

3. Point rewards and gainsharing. 

CMU employees can receive rewards for participation — up to $100 per quarter, with potential to earn up to $400 a year.

Gainsharing is the result of instances when CMU spends less on health care claims than projected. The leftover money can be returned to the university and distributed to individuals who meet certain criteria.

To be eligible for gain-sharing in 2018-19, employees must be enrolled in CMU's Blue Cross Blue Shield plan and have accumulated a certain number of points within the Virgin Pulse app during the fiscal year.  Gain-sharing is never guaranteed, but the Virgin Pulse program rewards are.

4. Data helps CMU create programs to meet specific needs.

For the members of CMU's wellness team, data from employee surveys and the wellness rewards program helps them tailor programs to fit the needs of the university.

For instance, CMU asked Virgin Pulse to introduce mindfulness and financial well-being resources into the program in early July after a job satisfaction survey found employee stress levels were on the rise.

"We want to do our best to provide the tools that help people," Griffin said. "We're human beings, so what helps us be the best people that we can be ultimately benefits the university and the students we serve."

5. Medical data anytime, anywhere.

Having access to data on blood pressure, BMI and heart rate can help participants make more informed health decisions and aids medical providers in giving better care. The CMU wellness rewards program partners with the higi network, a series of smart health stations found in local pharmacies and grocery stores, to incentivize routine checks of these numbers.

The higi app is free and available in the Google Play Store and the iPhone App Store.

6. It keeps people moving.

As CMU continues to invest time in improving employee health and wellness, it continues to encourage participants to incorporate physical activities into their day-to-day routines.

This ranges from encouraging participation in recreational activities to everyday office practices like walking meetings or "moving on the hour." The Central Health Improvement Program also organizes occasional faculty and staff classes and events designed to keep participants moving, healthy and engaged.

7. It's free.

Not only is it free, but the program offers a free activity-tracking device and access to a personalized tracking website and app.

To learn more about the wellness rewards program, visit the CMU Employee Wellness website.

Read the full CMU case study here.


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