A recent survey of large employers published by Hewitt Associates - a high-volume human resources outsourcing and consulting firm - showed that a whopping 95 percent of the 960 companies participating in the poll offer some form of wellness program for their employees.

And although the term wellness could be interpreted to mean anything from handing out paper pamphlets about health issues to providing on-site health screenings, running health fairs and offering company fitness centers, results from the survey showed that most of the large companies were offering comprehensive health programs that provide a wide range of choices for employees.

The Big Four firms have their own brand of wellness offerings, some specifically designed to keep staff members energetic and healthy during the long days and nights of the spring busy season.

This year, KPMG has begun offering a health risk appraisal program that can be performed online.

"You answer a number of questions about your habits," explained Jean Sasek, director of health and welfare plans for KPMG. The answers are scored, then the program will "tell you what diseases you might be at risk for, and provide targeted e-mails to tell you how you can avoid those diseases." Participants in the program also receive exercise reminders and diets based on their risk factors.

KPMG also has a firm-wide Global Fitness Solutions program that provides employees with discounts at local fitness centers in their area. Over 9,000 health clubs participate nationwide.

"On a local basis, there are a variety of programs," Sasek said. "We have Weight Watchers come in and do lunchtime sessions, yoga classes, flu shots." The firm has also offered 10-minute massages, yoga, after-hours classes of tai chi, and healthy snack programs.

KPMG has developed what it calls local action councils throughout the country. The councils are made up of partners and staff, all volunteers who work together to assess needs and communicate those needs to policy-makers at the national level. The councils also present on-site seminars on a variety of wellness issues.

Through KPMG's Employee Assistance Program, employees and their family members can receive assistance with a number of different issues ranging from stress management to elder care, child rearing, whole- life balance, relationship problems, family and parenting, alcohol and drug dependency, and grief and bereavement. In addition, the firm offers employees up to five sessions of free counseling on any issue, Sasek explained.

Barbara Wankoff, director of KPMG's workplace solutions, explained the firm's outlook on wellness: "It's part of our whole philosophy in being an employer of choice, looking at the whole person and understanding that healthy people are more effective, and it's really an important criteria for sustaining high performance over time."

'A joint responsibility'

Ernst & Young has developed EY/Assist, a 24-hour-a-day telephone and Internet service that provides employees with an outlet for obtaining assistance with a variety of services, including daycare, elder care, doctors, nurses, a health encyclopedia, information on colleges, adoption, addiction, education, legal, finance, emotional issues and stress.

"It's everything from finding a wedding planner to getting assistance with in-home resources for an elderly relative that's ill, to eating disorders, treatment for adolescent dependence," explained Sandra Turner, director of EY/Assist. "We use vendors to provide the services, so it's private and confidential." Turner said that 25 percent of E&Y employees use the program each year.

Turner feels that wellness is "a joint responsibility between employer and employee. The concept as we approach it is not so much from a cost-savings perspective as from a recruitment and retention perspective. If people are healthy and well mentally, emotionally and spiritually, it is a good retention tool," she explained. "It's not so much implementing resources and programs that will save health insurance dollars - it's maintaining a people-first culture that's healthy and well-balanced."

E&Y is experimenting with a wellness pilot program in the firm's Dallas office region. They've contracted locally with a wellness consultant who is doing pre- and post-testing to monitor progress. "They've done cholesterol measure, heart rate and weight, and they're working with the people on diets and exercise," Turner explained. The firm will analyze incidents of sick days before and after the project and also take a look at overall weight loss. If the program is successful, it could be implemented firm-wide, according to Turner.

At PricewaterhouseCoopers, the wellness program is incorporated into the firm's "Great Place to Work" effort. Shannon Schuyler, director of human resources, oversees that effort. "Wellness is one component of being a great place to work," she said. "We really need to be committed to the whole person, not just the work person."

"We offer nutritional benefits in our cafeteria and vending machines, 60 offices offer some kind of membership or help with membership dues to health clubs, we promote physical activity in our learning and education events, [and] many offices do Weight Watchers," said Schuyler.

PwC publishes internal newsletters about health and well-being, including ideas for sample menus and how to reduce stress. The firm also sponsors health fairs, flu shots, basic health care screening, blood pressure testing and more.

"This is one of those things that as times change has become more of a 'must have' than a 'nice to have,'" explained Schuyler. "Although you might have to push people to sign up for another [Financial Accounting Standards Board] course or another tech training course, when it comes time to sign up for a stress survival course we haven't had any difficulty getting the classes full."

PwC gets many of its ideas for wellness programs from the firm's pulse survey, which is administered twice a year.

Schuyler said that the survey asks 30 questions and that the answers to those questions "really drive our 'Great Place to Work' agenda." In addition to answers to the questions, the last survey produced about 3,500 comments. "The pulse survey helps us monitor if we're on the right page, it monitors if they come to the organization, why they choose us, and if they leave the organization, why they're leaving us. We've really focused on the feel of the place."

"Having some kind of wellness activities is critical to really enabling people to be successful in their careers and in their lives," said Schuyler.

Deloitte, meanwhile sees wellness programs as a means to an end.

"As we're thinking about wellness, we think in the broader context, what are we trying to do as an employer to stay an employer of choice, but also getting people to be more engaged and taking more responsibility for their own health and welfare," said Neena Newberry, senior manager of human resources research and analysis. "One of the things that we have an advantage with is that we have a consulting arm of our practice, and we do this work with our clients, and we think about how we can apply some of this to our own firm."

Deloitte offers on-site fitness centers in its northeast region, as well as discounts at local fitness centers across the country. They also provide annual health fairs with flu shots, blood pressure testing and body fat screenings. The health fairs are held in conjunction with open enrollment for health care benefits. The firm has tried contests where employees score points for different types of health and wellness activities that they participate in, with teams from different offices competing with one another.

Deloitte has also determined that flexible scheduling, available at all of the Big Four firms, has a positive impact on, among other things, stress and well-being.

'Where the best want to be'

"Wellness is a shared responsibility. Each individual has to take ownership for their own well-being. The employer has a big roll in encouraging that," said Newberry. "What we're trying to do is build a place where the best choose to be. I think it sends an important message in terms of what we think is important and that we care about their well-being."

Said PwC's Schuyler, "We wanted to create a place that people look forward to coming to and look forward to coming to the next day."

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