Maureen McGrain, Portland Business Journal, May 18, 2012
The LifeBalance Program created by Dave Miller, left, and Paul Alati, serves 3,500 clients in seven states.
Dave Miller and Paul Alati launched a wellness benefits program in 1996 just as the term “work-life balance” began popping up in corporate culture speak. Their LifeBalance Program allows corporations large and small to offer employees online health trackers and discounts on gym memberships, massages, ski lift tickets and the like.
Miller and Alati, both seasoned benefits experts, went door-to-door to build a network of health clubs, yoga studios, massage therapists and such that would offer discounts to LifeBalance members.
It wasn’t an easy sell at first.
“Work-life balance was a brand new concept for vendors but also a new concept for clients,” said Miller, president of LifeBalance’s five-person Portland office.
Now the company has 3,500 clients and 500,000 members in seven states. Revenue has grown 20 percent in the last three years.
It’s part of a national trend: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, about 52 percent of all workers had access to some type of wellness program in 2008, the latest data available.
In 1998, Providence Health Plan signed on with LifeBalance, offering the service to all of its health insurance members.
“We were interested in offering a program to our members that would be valued by folks that don’t need or use a lot of health care,” said Barbara Christensen, chief sales and marketing officer for Providence Health Plan. “A healthy lifestyle program that could enhance our offering.”
Indeed, wellness programs now are considered a beneficial tool in steering employees to preventive care.
LifeBalance offers customers two levels of service. The Classic LifeBalance Program features discounts from more than 10,000 businesses within more than 70 recreational, wellness and even cultural categories.
Users create online LifeBalance profiles where they can track health goals such as pounds lost and steps walked. LifeBalance users receive membership cards and email newsletters. The company also provides signage for the workplace and extras like pedometers for employees.
In the last three years, the company has expanded its offerings to include custom wellness challenges that urge employees to pursue various health missions for four to 12 weeks. Challenges include maintaining weight during the fat-laden holidays, walking 10,000 steps per day or biking to work. Clients can offer cash prizes to the winners, which can be used at LifeBalance’s vendors.
The health challenges have been hugely successful for LifeBalance. Since 2010, the company has arranged 30,000 such health challenges in five states, resulting in 313,000 hours of exercise, 2 billion steps taken and 21,000 pounds lost.
LifeBalance clients aren’t necessarily big. Some employ only 10 people.
Miller said employers now understand the benefit of investing in preventive care, particularly in battling soaring insurance premiums.
Since only about 20 percent of employees drive 80 percent of an employer’s health insurance costs, it pays off to provide health and wellness incentives like the team challenges, said Miller. And since LifeBalance’s challenges are at least four weeks long, the result can be long-lasting for a previously unhealthy employee.
“People say that fun challenges are enough to get them to exercise,” he said. “We want to change behaviors.”
The National Center for Biotechnology Information studied Web-based wellness programs over a four-year period and found that the increase in medical expenditures for participants was far less — 31 percent versus 46 percent — than nonparticipants.
It’s not the only way a wellness program can improve a bottom line. Studies show that healthy employees are more productive.
LifeBalance employees are working hard to expand its vendor network and develop new wellness challenges. Another goal: Add five new health plans in five new states.
Dave Miller’s tips for implementing a wellness challenge at work:
- Involve all employees and their families. Include upper-level management to set the tone for participation.
- Incorporate team-based challenges that build camaraderie and morale. Offer creative incentives and prizes that also revolve around health and wellness.
- Ensure consistent promotion through email blasts, promotional posters, on-site registration events, etc.
- Make it fun and easy for employees to get and stay involved. Give them an online platform to log activities.
- Show a commitment to long-term wellness. For example, establish a wellness calendar and give employees a chance to participate in company-sponsored challenges throughout the year.