When Meredith Corp. Chairman and CEO Steve Lacy talks about corporate wellness, his words effortlessly underscore its importance: “As CEOs, it is our responsibility to lead employees to healthier lifestyles. It is a proper use of our time, energy and employee engagement and, along the way, we may save a life or two.”

Last week, Steve shared with me how Meredith has become a wellness powerhouse, resulting in an average medical plan cost per employee per month 30 percent below the national average, and a corporate-wide weight loss of 6,000 pounds a year.

“Personally, I see wellness as part of Meredith’s culture of service, to both our customers and our employees. So, upon becoming CEO in 2006, I wanted to immediately address health care rates, which were rising 18 percent annually.

That certainly provided a compelling business case for launching a corporate wellness program,” he explained.

“In looking at claims data for root causes, we discovered three issues: an unhealthy behavior aspect; uneducated consumers; and the need for a plan design that included more personal responsibility in making health care choices.

“With solid data in hand, in 2007 we hired Tim O’Neil as our manager of Employee Health & Financial Wellness, and launched our wellness program. We created ‘Wellness Champions’ and ‘Wellness Committees’ at our 21 locations across the country, and actively participated and promoted ‘Live Health America.’ We upgraded our fitness facility here in Des Moines, which is open 24/7 for both employees and their spouses and offers free fitness classes.

“I believe Meredith’s wellness program has been successful because it is fact-based, it works appropriately within the confines of privacy, and it’s led from the top with resources around it,” he said.

This unwavering CEO desire to lead employees to lifestyles is paying off. In 2012, 98.3 percent of Meredith employees and their spouses participated in the company’s health screenings.

That’s important because Meredith’s annual medical claims per person average $2,865 less for wellness participants.

I agree with Steve. For corporate wellness programs to be successful, they must have a commitment from the highest level, regular communications and positive incentives or generous benefit packages.

Employees— who are actively working out, eating healthier and having fun along the way — often are the most productive people in the workplace.