Opinion

Celebrating your way to wellness

Most businesses like to tout they have a wellness plan. A survey conducted by payroll company ADP this year showed that wellness programs are one of the best ways for employers to promote a healthy workforce, contain rising health care expenses, and generate productivity among their employees. 

However, while 79 percent of large and 44 percent of midsized companies offer wellness programs, over 60 percent of these companies do not measure their return on investment. Yet, the majority of midsized and large companies report their wellness programs met or exceeded their senior executives’ expectations in regards to reducing overall healthcare costs. Here are some stats ADP provided from the study: 

  • The majority of companies provide voluntary or incentive-based wellness programs, but 15 percent of midsized companies and 12 percent of large ones make participation in these programs mandatory.
  • Reasons that employers cite for offering wellness programs vary. A strong majority (81 percent midsized, 78 percent large) say they are most interested in improving employee health, closely followed by controlling health care costs. Additionally, a third or more are interested in attracting and retaining employees, and maintaining or increasing benefits offerings.
  • Midsized companies have been offering wellness programs to employees for about six years and large employers for about six and a half years. An average of 51 percent of employees in midsized companies and 39 percent of employees in large companies participate in these programs.

Yet, running a successful wellness program still comes down to engaging employees to participate. According to Jennifer Goforth Gregory, writing about wellness for Intuit, the majority of organizations know the importance of healthy lifestyle habits, but sometimes people need a nudge to get off the couch. If your employees take frequent smoke breaks, struggle to make fitness a priority, or use a lot of sick days, it might be time to provide them with a few wellness incentives.

As reported in a study conducted last year by Incentive Research Foundation, only one in five employees participate in a wellness program without rewards; however, four out of five people join when incentives are offered. Jennifer delivers five steps to creating an effective wellness incentive program for your employees:

1. Determine the wellness needs of your staff. Think about your staff members and the specific health issues they struggle with. Do they complain about not finding time to work out? Do they have access to a workout facility at the office? Do you see them eating fast food at their desk to meet deadlines? If you are unsure what their priorities are, ask them for feedback or send out a survey. Find out what they want. You won’t know if you don’t ask.

2. Provide tools that enable success. No matter how many gift cards or free lunches you provide, your employees will achieve the most success if you first help solve the obstacles in their way. Businesses without a workout facility on-site can offer a gym membership as a benefit. If your staff works long hours or juggles family obligations, offer to give each employee two to three hours a week to exercise during the workday. Consider paying for a portion of weight-loss programs, such as Weight Watchers, or sponsoring employees who want to enroll in a smoking cessation program. Make it easy for people to participate, or they will not. Only the most self motivated are participators in these programs.

3. Choose valued incentives. If you offer rewards that no one is interested in, then your wellness incentive program will not have the desired results. In her recent Benefits Magazine article “Wellness Incentive Strategies That Work,” Kristie Zoeller Howard writes: “To get employees to take action, employers need to offer rewards that are valued by most, if not all, participants.” She adds that the most valued incentives are cash, merchandise gift cards, and benefit-integrated incentives, such as additional paid time off or decreased health insurance contributions.

4. Set attainable goals for receiving the incentive. Let’s say the majority of your workers do not exercise regularly, but your program is set up to reward people who exercise five times a week for three months. Your incentives program is likely to fail. Consider your staff’s current status and structure goals that will push them to change their behaviors in a realistic way. Some organizations find that offering a points-based incentive program, in which employees earn points for different activities (such as working out, attending a seminar, or taking a smoking cessation class), offers the most flexibility for staff at different wellness levels.

5. Evaluate the program. Before rolling out any program, ask for feedback from your employees. Based on their input, make any changes that will help increase participation. Once the incentive plan is in place, monitor participation on an ongoing basis and make adjustments as needed to encourage your employees to adopt healthier lifestyles.

Wellness can be successful for your employees, and it can sure help improve your health for both personnel and financial resources. Likewise, according to Towers Watson, 58 percent of companies cite low employee engagement as the greatest obstacle to changing unhealthy behaviors. Many employers point to medical vendors’ ineffectiveness in promoting healthy lifestyles and encouraging more efficient use of health care services.

The success of wellness programs hinges on whether employees participate. To that end, employers have been actively and even aggressively taking actions to boost program enrollment. Financial incentives—notably cash—have been the strategy of choice. But even though cash rewards have worked for many employers, they are not a panacea. Ongoing cash rewards are not financially sustainable and/or scalable, especially in the current economic climate, and research suggests participants’ healthier behaviors often end when the financial incentives disappear. 

Successful employers share a common commitment in their wellness strategy. They provide broad-based and targeted communication to their workforce and develop a healthy workplace culture with strong support from senior leadership. These efforts emphasize the power of the organization to tap into employees’ intrinsic motives and to cultivate an inherent drive to manage their own health, thus ultimately leading to sustainable behavior change.

People must be motivated to be healthy. The first step is to get off the couch. Once the first step is made, it’s easier to move forward with a successful program. Change the behavior, then the rest is easier. 

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