A New Take on Creating a Wellness Culture in the Hospitality Industry

By Tracey Holloway Vice President of Human Resources, Stanford Hotels Corporation | July 17, 2014

In this business, our over-arching focus is often on how well we are serving our guests. Yet, perhaps an equally important question for management to ask is, how well are we serving our employees? Having a healthy and productive staff is an obvious boon to a hotel. Yet, most often health care benefits fall short of providing all employees with options that truly serve their day-to-day wellbeing.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 22.3 million people in the U.S. did not receive medical care in the last year due to cost, and another 15.7 million did not receive much-needed care due to cost. Those with the least amount of education were more than three times as likely to delay healthcare because of cost. These are troubling numbers and show that workers in this country are willing to seriously risk their health because they simply can't afford their share of the expense.

The health care industry has seen double-digit cost increases over the past several years, making it progressively more difficult for companies to offer employees quality medical plans at a low cost. Moreover, most plans are geared towards caring for those who are already ill, or those who need referrals or special tests. Today, 80 percent of the costs are for only 20 percent of the insured population, and 80 percent of the insured are not even using the benefits.

With such a daunting challenge, how can we effectively foster a wellness culture within the hospitality industry through health plans? The current health care push is towards Health Savings Accounts (HSA), which are consumer driven plans, letting companies budget a reasonable expense for health care with the remainder for employees to manage.

With the ultimate goal being employees that are pro-active with their health, one possible down side to the HSA system is that employees may not use the funds on preventative medicine, like well checks or physical exams. Instead, they may decide to save the funds for an emergency, which does not support a culture of health and wellness.

Particularly in the hospitality industry, employees often live paycheck to paycheck and have a difficult time understanding the complexities of health care. Trying to promote health and wellness through an HSA system can take years, as employees learn to change their behavior and focus on prevention versus waiting for a major emergency. Instead of leaving it up to employees, hospitality companies need to manage employees' healthcare allotments and encourage them to focus on their wellbeing.

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