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Best HR Ideas: Benefits

This article is part of HRE's Best HR Ideas for 2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
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Yoga at Your Desk

Cardinal Health Inc., Dublin, Ohio

While the information age has ushered in plenty of great technological advancements, it's also led to employees being more sedentary than ever before. Some people sit in the same chair for eight hours per day or more -- not exactly the healthiest activity.

But Cardinal Health is doing something about that. The company has initiated a program called Yoga at Your Desk, whereby employees were issued cubes with photos and descriptions of five different stretching exercises that can be done while sitting down.

Reduce back, neck and shoulder tension by lifting the shoulders to the ears (shrugging) and holding for five seconds. Ease wrist stiffness by placing the hands together in a praying position in front of you and raising the elbows, holding for 30 seconds. (The small cubes also feature information on the company's wellness hotline.)

OK, maybe they're not poses such as downward facing dog or Warrior II, but the exercises do get people stuck in offices to work their muscles during the day. That's especially important for the company's 900 call-center employees, who, by the nature of their jobs, have to wait at their desks for phone calls.

The program is currently available to 3,500 of the company's 31,000 employees, says Monica Foster, director of healthy lifestyles at Cardinal.

"We've got a lot of positive testimonials," says Foster. "Everybody is really appreciative that we would think about them and recognize that they are under a lot of stress." 

Special Delivery: A 'Baby Expo'

Cardinal Health Inc., Dublin, Ohio

Cardinal Health recently put a new and interesting twist on the traditional corporate health fair.

In February 2010, Cardinal held its first-ever Baby Expo, a fair where new and expecting moms and dads were able to collect information and learn about resources pertaining to having or adopting a baby.

The brainchild of the maternity sub-team of the company's Women's Initiative Network, the Baby Expo provides employees, spouses and partners interested in becoming parents with a single place they can go to learn about issues such as the medical and leave implications of becoming new parents and various support tools available to them.

"We figured, why not bring [all of the various resources available to our workforce] together and make it into something of a baby shower, with cake and punch?" says Monica Foster, director of healthy lifestyles for the 31,000-employee company.

The first event attracted about 50 people and a handful of vendors. But because it was so well-received, a second expo was held during the summer with more than 30 vendors and 100 attendees. Two more are scheduled for 2011. Eventually, Foster sees them occurring quarterly.

The Baby Expo, for now, is limited to those working at or near corporate headquarters. But as the company expands healthy-lifestyle initiatives to other corporate facilities, Foster is hopeful efforts such as the Baby Expo will eventually be duplicated there as well.

Cleveland Clinic Direct Contracting for Heart Surgery

Lowe's Cos. Inc., Mooresville, N.C.

With ever-increasing healthcare costs, medical tourism has become an increasingly intriguing option, whether patients travel across the United States or across the world.

Lowe's Cos. Inc. is now offering 90 percent of its 238,000 employees the option to have non-emergency heart surgeries at the Cleveland Clinic -- a facility recognized by U.S. News and World Report for giving the best cardiac care. That includes nine procedures, such as valve replacements and coronary artery bypass grafts.

The employees aren't charged deductibles or out-of-pocket expenses. The company also pays for travel costs and living expenses for the patient and a companion.

So far, Lowe's has sent 29 people for surgery at the Cleveland Clinic since the program began in April 2010.

The company saves money on every operation, says Bob Ihrie, the company's senior vice president of employee rewards and services. Sure, it's not enough to greatly reduce the healthcare cost for the home-improvement giant, but ancillary benefits such as lower complication rates, lower readmission rates and faster return-to-work are surely valuable.

Since they now have a choice for care, it's led employees to be better healthcare consumers -- music to any HR executive's ear.

"We now have our employees thinking they have options and thinking what they should do in medical care," says Ihrie. "They understand that they can make choices for themselves. That helps a lot."

Enhancing LGBT Benefits

Google Inc., Mountain View, Calif.

In 2010, Google took its LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) benefits to a new level.

Already a strong supporter of the LGBT community -- publicly opposing Proposition 8 in California and supporting "pride parades" in traditionally conservative countries such as Poland and Japan -- Google enhanced its LGBT benefits on a number of fronts last year.

At the top of that list was Google's decision to join a handful of organizations offering tax gross-ups, so Google employees with same-sex partners are no longer taxed on the company's contribution toward their partners' healthcare. 

"Because of the way the IRS laws are, LGBT employees felt that they weren't able to receive the same benefit as other employees," says Yvonne Agyei, director of benefits for Google. "It's really a question of fairness. The issue of being taxed for placing your partner on health benefits really seemed like an injustice to them."

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Beyond that, the company has also granted Family and Medical Leave Act equivalence for domestic partners, changed the definition of what qualifies for fertility assistance so LGBT employees could take advantage of the benefit and modified its online-enrollment tool so same-sex partners can be included as spouses.

Agyei notes that Google, which has more than 23,000 employees, implemented these changes because they were "the right thing to do." They're also having a huge impact on employee satisfaction.

"One of the metrics [in our Googlegeist employee survey] that I found really meaningful is that, for our LGBT Googlers, satisfaction went up by 20 points, relative to the previous year," Agyei says.

Roadmap to Wellness

Olympus Corp. of the Americas, Center Valley, Pa.

When most people think of Olympus, they think of digital cameras. But the company is also an important medical supplier, having built the first camera that lets doctors look inside the human body, as well as imaging systems and clinical microscopes.

So perhaps it's fitting that Olympus is focused on making its employees "healthy ambassadors," for their families and communities as well as themselves. Last year, it launched Find it First, in which it donated $50,000 to colon-cancer-research organizations in return for employees 50 and older getting screened or encouraging someone they knew to get screened. 

"We know approximately 50,000 Americans die from colon cancer each year, and we also know it's a disease that's very treatable when it's detected early," says Caryn Dashukewich, vice president of human resources.

Olympus Americas also began offering its 4,200 employees a Roadmap to Wellness benefit that includes free colonoscopies, mammograms and wellness visits along with free, full-panel personalized blood tests.

The blood-test results are sent directly to employees so they are alerted immediately to any disease risks they may have so they can start preventive treatment, says Dashukewich. Employees can decide whether to disclose this information to their primary-care doctor.

By actively engaging employees in their own health, along with that of their spouses and significant others, Dashukewich adds, Olympus Americas was able to keep its healthcare costs (and employee premiums) flat last year. In fact, last year it even discontinued a $50 incentive it gave employees for participating in wellness programs without losing any participation at all.

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