What drives performance?
How can health add organizational
and employee value?
These are important issues employers and HR teams work to address every day. While the answers to these questions differ depending on the industry and company, organizations both large and small are using wellness programs to connect with employees, encourage healthy behavior across the organization, and instill long-term health benefits in an age of constantly-increasing healthcare costs.
A majority of employers are already offering a wellness program in some respect:
- 79% offer wellness resources and information
- 47% provide health screening programs and coaching
- 42% offer smoking cessation programs (source: SHRM.org)
Organizations are recognizing the potential benefits of wellness programs, but not all programs are successful in actually engaging employees and generating positive changes. Whether you have already designed and implemented a wellness program or are just beginning to consider the benefits a wellness program can bring to your organization, it helps to know what makes a wellness program most effective for everyone involved.
Focus your program on all employees, not just those enrolled in certain plans.
Here’s where things tend to go wrong right off the bat for employers designing wellness programs. When wellness programs only focus on employees participating in medical coverage, you may be missing a huge segment of your workforce and are sending the message that you only value the well-being of those employees for cost-cutting purposes. Instead, encourage all employees to get involved with participation-based programs, healthy initiatives in the workplace, and suitable rewards when goals are met.
Get buy-in from all levels of management and present your program with a consistent message.
Like anything else, if managers and executives don’t actively support the program, employees aren’t likely to support it either. Additionally, inconsistent communication and an unsupportive culture won’t do anything to motivate employees. Instead, get organizational leaders involved in communicating the program to employees and leading company-wide goals. This will encourage participation across the board, because employees who understand of the strategic priorities of your organization will value their membership more and will be more likely to get involved with wellness initiatives. Engage employees in different modes of communication such as email updates and newsletters, social media, and office postings for an effective message.
Ensure your program has a reasonable chance of improving health for participating employees.
Your program shouldn’t be too difficult for employees to complete and should be based on medical facts and research. As an employer, the place to start encouraging healthy behavior is the workplace environment. You can accomplish this through providing healthier snacks and drinks, using onsite tobacco cessation assistance, or offering onsite nutrition or yoga classes. To make it easier for employees to participate in the program across multiple locations or even remotely, try offering other convenient options such as health coaching calls, a “Lunch and Learn” webinar series, online programs, a team-based step or weight-loss challenge, or a weekly newsletter with hot topics in health, fitness, and nutrition.
Reward employees for healthy behavior, instead of just penalizing them for unhealthy behavior.
When the motivation for employees to participate is based on avoiding a penalty instead of improving their health, incentives aren’t seen as a reward. For example, when designing a tobacco cessation plan, focus on encouraging employee’s attempts to quit instead of punishing them for being smokers. If you provide cessation assistance and reward both quitting attempts and successful tobacco cessation, you’ll be much more likely to build a culture of health within your organization, encourage participation in your program, and demonstrate your commitment to improving your employee’s well-being. Rewards can be based on completing a specific action, such as a certain number of steps per day or a timed workout, or outcome-based, such as improvement in results of annual biometric screenings.
Find out what most motivates your employees and encourage healthy actions accordingly.
This may depend on your company’s demographics, location, or corporate culture, but a quick anonymous survey of employees can help determine which rewards will be most effective in motivating your workforce. This is an easy way to tailor your wellness program to your organization’s unique resources and needs. 36% of large employers’ and 18% of small employers’ wellness programs offer financial incentives (source: Kaiser Family Foundation). Financial rewards can be in the form of gift cards, Health Spending Account contributions, fitness center membership contributions, or many other options as you see fit. Setting company or team-wide goals encourages participation on a wider level, and team-based rewards like event tickets or healthy team meals will motivate, boost morale, and encourage teamwork in other areas of the organization.
Of course, there are plenty of compliance issues to consider.
It’s illegal to condition plan eligibility or discriminate against employees’ health coverage or pricing on the basis of a health factor such as health status, medical condition, genetic information, or disability. Be careful when designing your plan and working with health information – just because you comply with HIPAA doesn’t mean you comply with all other laws, such as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), PPACA, ERISA, state and local laws, and federal tax code. Consider partnering with a vendor who specializes in administering wellness programs, and be sure to run any potential plan past your lawyer or legal team to ensure it is not in violation of any of these laws.
Trying to do everything at once with your wellness program will overwhelm you, not to mention your employees. Take a progressive approach to build your program and encourage long-term, healthy changes. This tactic will ensure your employees achieve their optimal level of health. Try starting with a participation-based program, consistent communications, and employee wellness committee, and work your way up to an outcomes-based plan over the course of months (or even years!). Your program should help employees identify their personal health risks and provide them with tools and skills to lower those risks.
Remember: the goal is to encourage your employees’ accountability for their own health, which will lead to more successful, long-term health outcomes. With the right wellness program, you’ll find you can better motivate your employees to take charge of their well-being, cut costs for your organization and employees, and develop a stronger, more satisfied workforce along the way.
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