As employers are continuing to look for ways to control health care costs, wellness programs are expected to remain a popular benefit offering in 2013. Wellness programs aren't new to the benefits industry, but employers are taking steps to get more out of these programs this year.
Focusing on retention and sustainability
So much attention is given to engaging employees in wellness programs, which is projected to remain a key focus, but it shouldn’t stop there, says Stephanie Pronk, senior vice president at Aon Hewitt, a human resources consulting firm in Chicago. Employers must also be concerned with retention. For a wellness program to work effectively, it should create a lifestyle change with sustainable results, and more employers are accomplishing this through workplace practices, such as walking meetings and standing work stations.
“When you think about why safety programs are so successful in organizations, it’s because they’re engrained in the culture,” Pronk says. “It’s part of the way they do their work every day, so we need to work at health and wellness in the same way. We need culture changes to support healthy behaviors in the long term.”
Involve employees’ families
Pronk expects to see more employers target not only employees but family members, as well. Employers can do this by sending a family kit that includes games involving the entire family and healthful recipes and shopping lists. This teaches everyone who might be on the employer’s health plan to choose the right types of food and portion sizes, which reinforces those healthful habits.
“It’s pretty easy to get the employee engaged, but it’s a little harder to get the spouses and dependents engaged, too,” Pronk says. “We’re finding that unit is really important in terms of changing behavior and sustaining that behavior.”
In an effort to increase personal accountability, employers are looking to create a wellness environment that embraces transparency, Pronk says. Employers can promote transparency by celebrating major milestones regarding the health of the employees in the organization and distributing a quarterly health report.
“It is helpful when employers share what is happening with the health of the organization to ensure individuals understand how they make an impact,” Pronk says. “Keeping that transparency and those lines of communication is important.”
Practicing community involvement
While employers have been pushing healthy living among employees, Pronk also expects to see more employers encourage wellness in the community. An employee might want to become more active, but if there are few places to safely walk or run, it makes it more difficult. Considering the power employers have on their communities, more employers are taking this opportunity to push for better amenities, such as safe walking and running paths.
“Employers have a lot of influence on the communities they live in and they provide jobs in, so we see that aspect as a sphere of influence that will make a healthy and high-performing work force,” Pronk says. “That’s going to be a big push in 2013.”