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Wellness 2.0 – Five Ways to Make Sure Your Program Pays Off

By Linda Keller, HUB Employee Benefits Practice Leader, California

There are several articles floating around the blogosphere recently purporting that wellness programs don't really work.  This broad-brush judgment is both inaccurate and potentially damaging to organizations currently weighing the true value of wellness. In our experience, not all wellness programs are created equally.  Successful wellness programs and initiatives - defined by healthier, more engaged employees, cultural change within an organization, and lower insurance rates - do exist and are attainable.  

Wellness is a journey, and it takes time to move the needle.  Organizational health and wellness must be approached with the same strategic planning and execution that ensures the success of any key initiative.  A clear roadmap along with a flexible approach and the right tools to ensure measurable results is critical to the successful implementation of your company's wellness program.  

HUB International has identified five key areas that an organization can focus on to make sure they get the most out of their health and wellness program:  

Identify Outcomes & Develop a Vision 

Why should you want or need a health and wellness program?  Smart organizations look to wellness as a strategy to achieve desirable business outcomes: a healthier population, greater overall engagement levels, an energetic culture, or lower overall insurance rates.  To achieve these goals, you need to partner with a benefits consultant who can help help you assess your current state, identify specific outcomes, and develop a strategic approach to achieving those results. 

A client of ours in the insurance industry began their wellness journey with us in 2009 starting with an overall goal of creating a healthy work environment.  The vision was driven by their CEO, who also hand-picked and worked closely with a wellness committee. 

Secure Executive Support 

The client's wellness committee worked with us to align goals and objectives for the program with what employees actually wanted, and determined how leaders in the organization could create awareness and behavioral change.  One of the key success factors identified by the client was the visibility and promotion of wellness initiatives by senior leaders, as well as the fact that employees saw them regularly "walking the talk" and visibly making personal health improvements.

Gather Accurate Data 

Organizations often launch a wellness program with a vision, but little understanding of what the baseline data is, or what employees actually want.  How healthy is your population?  Where are your challenges?  What types of activities are your employees likely to engage in?  Our client sponsored biometric screenings to gather specific and accurate data to track health-related improvements.  Using tools such as comprehensive surveys, activity challenges, and awareness campaigns, they were able to align initiatives with what was most important to their employees.  Another success factor identified by the client was the diversity and variety of on-site programs - instead of a "one-size-fits-all" approach, the teams were careful to tailor activities and offer something for everyone.

Provide Accountability & Support 

Lack of accountability can torpedo a program.  As with any initiative, employees will recognize if management is paying lip service to an idea or if they are truly committed.  They need to know that the vision is supported through the organization.  For this client, the wellness committee not only created goals and objectives for their program, they began to integrate wellness with their performance management and develop wellness goals for all managers.  At the same time, the client found creative ways to provide support for employees to keep their personal commitments, such as a communication on January 2nd to offer support for employees' New Year's resolutions. 

Deliver Measurable Results 

Successful organizations understand where they are going, and take steps to measure improvement.  Using comprehensive data analysis and a data dashboard, our client was able to track and report the following program results:

  • 73% of employees indicated that their company's culture of wellness is important to them;
  • 70% of employees participated in biometric screenings;
  • The client saw greater than 50% participation in their employee exercise campaign;
  • 15% of employees indicated they had increased exercise and improved overall nutrition over a 2-year span;
  • Employees participating in the program year-over-year saw the following health improvements:
    • 2.3% decrease in smoking prevalence;
    • 7% increase in low risk for blood pressure;
    • 11% increase in low risk for triglycerides;
  • And finally, the client secured a 3% medical renewal decrease in 2012.     

Wellness programs must be strategically designed, tied to a company's vision, incorporate employee motivation and incentives, promote accountability, and measure defined outcomes.  Our collaborative approach, as well as our deep understanding of how to address common challenges with a step-by-step process, enables our clients to create a robust culture of wellness that delivers business results.