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Next-Generation Job: Wellness Executive

Anita Shaughnessy started out in the health field 30 years ago as a fitness instructor, teaching exercise and swimming classes to adults and children. Now, three decades later, she is the vice president of health and wellness at American Express and oversees the company’s global Healthy Living program, which provides employees with tools and resources to manage their health.

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She says her career morphed into a corporate fitness role because she wanted to impact people's health on a greater scale and also prove that a wellness program could help a company’s bottom line.

“Healthy employees are happy employees, happy employees are more productive and great productivity helps us to have happier customers, so it’s a win-win all the way around,” she says.

The Healthy Living program, which includes weight loss, tobacco cessation and stress management resources, has seen positive results since its launch in 2009. According to Shaughnessy, the rate of preventive actions on the part of employees is trending upward, while health care expenses are trending downward.

According to 2010 MetLife study, 61 percent of companies with 500 or more employees offer a wellness program, compared to 46 percent in 2005, and the programs seem to be showing positive results. An analysis by Health Affairs found overall medical costs fell by $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs while the cost of absenteeism dropped about $2.73 for every dollar spent.

“Wellness has been an increasingly important strategy for Fortune 500 companies to keep their employees healthier, and of course the goal is to help health care costs and improve productivity and well being,” says LuAnn Heinen, vice president of the National Business Group on Health, an organization that helps large companies manage health care benefits.

“Increasingly companies are going to be looking for people in this space, but also with a analytical component, to see if the programs are working .”

Jobs in this growing industry generally require a bachelor’s degree, a background in a health field (i.e. nurse, dietitian or health education specialist) and the ability to analyze data and help companies measure the effectiveness of their wellness programs, according to Heinen. Job titles in this field include corporate health promotion specialist, wellness program manager, manager of health promotion and wellness and director of employee health and wellness.

According to Heinen, salaries for the specialist-level positions range from $50,000 to $60,000 and director-level positions range from $85,000 to $110,000. She estimates manager level positions are somewhere in between.

Large employers are more likely than small or medium companies to offer comprehensive wellness programs, according to Heinen. She estimates 80 percent of the large companies that work with her organization, including Fortune 500 firms such as Campbell Soup , PepsiCo , IBM , Boeing and Intel , currently have such a program in place. Some have their own wellness teams on staff and others use outside vendors that work onsite.

Different companies have different approaches to wellness, but Heinen says programs tend to concentrate on five key areas: tobacco use, physical activity, healthy diets, weight management and dealing with stress.

Patti Clavier is the senior project manager for Intel’s Global Health and Well-Being program, which is available to 68,000 employees globally. Clavier started at Intel 15 years ago as an occupational health nurse, but says she had always hoped to focus on wellness at the company. In 2001, she was hired into the group that specifically focuses on wellness.

“The purpose of our program is really to develop a culture where employees and their families are healthy, productive and engaged in living wellness-oriented lifestyles every day,” says Clavier.

Clavier’s main role is to make sure the goals of Intel’s wellness program are met. The goals are focused on employee participation, satisfaction and behavior change that leads to improvements in body mass index, blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol.

One of the cornerstones of Intel’s program is the Health for Life Three-Step Wellness Check, which is in its fourth year. Employees have the opportunity to get a biometric health check, where their height, weight, blood pressure and blood glucose are measured. They then receive a health report based on their health check results and a risk assessment questionnaire. The third step is an in-person or over-the-phone discussion with a wellness coach who helps them make the appropriate behavior changes to maintain or improve their health status.

“It’s a win-win for both Intel and the employee from a financial standpoint and from a quality-of-life standpoint,” says Clavier, while talking about the program’s results.

Reducing Costs by Reducing Risks

Clavier adds the company has seen a flattening of health care costs, which she attributes partly to employees reducing health risks. She also says the company has 29,000 employees who are showing successful management of weight and blood pressure. (Intel does not see employees’ individual information, but they can look at aggregate data.)

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Intel has five employees dedicated to the health and well-being program, but there are other staff members who have “partial dedication,” according to Clavier. The company also has multiple supplier teams that work onsite.

“One of our suppliers, because our program is growing, just hired a wellness coach last week for one of our sites,” adds Clavier. “It’s definitely an area of expansion.”

The wellness industry is also creating entrepreneurial opportunities. Colleen Reilly, of Denver, Colo., started wellness consulting company Total Well-Beingin 2008. Since the company opened its doors, it has acquired 12 clients and grown to four employees.

"Wellness has been around for a long time, but it's finally becoming more legitimate in the workplace,” says Reilly. “In 2006, 2007 it really became the buzz, and around 2008 there was a lot of talk and no action, but now it’s explosive.”

Total Well-Being focuses on companies with less than 5,000 employees and helps them create strategic and comprehensive wellness programs. Its clients include Molson Coors and student lender Nelnet .

Reilly, who has an undergraduate degree in combined science as well as an MBA, stresses the importance of business acumen in the wellness field. What she stresses most, however, is her enjoyment of the business.

"If you're passionate about making a difference in people's lives, I would recommend this 100 percent,” she adds. “It's fulfilling and rewarding...to make a workplace culture healthier.”