ASG Perspectives

On-Call with Sara Winand, RN — Let's Get Creative with Corporate Wellness

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Many wellness programs offer paid time off as a reward for completing certain ongoing tasks—like taking so many steps in a designated two-week period can earn an employee one hour of PTO. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield South Carolina offers its Get in the Habit of Moving More Challenge to help employees move toward better health. We started looking into this trend, and discovered the following article from Benefits Broker Pro, which we thought would be of interest to any TPA or Broker looking to offer a new twist on corporate wellness.

 

Corporate wellness is having its moment 

A cloud has been hanging over the corporate wellness industry, in no small part due to an often-cited RAND study which shows wellness programs are having little to no effect on reducing employer health costs.

Findings like this spell bad news for wellness solutions, not to mention for the HR departments that have invested billions in them. Does this mean it’s time to throw in the towel? Hardly.

Reverting to business as usual isn’t a winning strategy. Chronic illness, health costs, and lost productivity are all on the rise. Companies that ignore these issues do so at their peril.

All of the above is why I believe in 2017 the wellness industry is having its moment. While the initial hype behind wellness has led to serious disillusionment, we are now at a pivotal turning point, where thoughtful approaches, as well as some hard-learned lessons, start leading to real results.

Lesson #1: Stop creeping out your employees

All too often, wellness programs alienate employees long before any progress can be made. This usually begins with the health risk assessment -- a deeply flawed but widely used tool. These impersonal assessments ask employees to answer invasive questions like, “How many times do you cry per week?”

Lesson #2: You can’t force employees into better health

If your employees believe they are being forced into a program or penalized for not participating, that new Fitbit you’ve rolled out can quickly look like a pair of handcuffs. It’s crucial instead to nudge employees into wanting to participate and be proactive in maintaining or improving their own health.

This level of trust and engagement will never happen in a program where employees feel berated for not losing enough weight or taking too few daily steps. Wellness programs must dig deeper to determine what employees want and what will motivate them to achieve long-term health goals.

It’s important to remember trust goes both ways. Allowing employees to opt-out if they aren’t ready is a leap of faith employers must be ready to take. The focus for these non-participants then becomes determining what they need to feel ready and capable of improving their health.

Sound like a lot of effort? It is. But the alternative is failure. A mandatory, punitive wellness program ultimately won’t create positive engagement or meaningful behavior change.

Gym stipends and other perks such as on-site yoga classes are great. Companies should absolutely offer them if it makes sense for their employees. But workout perks can’t be the final word in a wellness program. Social determinants of health should factor in, too.

If an employee is dealing with anxiety that makes getting out of bed a daily struggle, what good will a gym membership do them? In addition to exercise and nutrition components, a wellness program should fulfill behavioral health needs. Services such as stress management workshops, financial counseling, and substance abuse treatment can make a world of difference in the health of employees.

Lesson #4: Culture is king

What these lessons have in common is that they are all points to consider before rolling out a wellness program in the first place. To that point, there is no value in offering a program until leaders have a thorough understanding of their company’s culture.

I tend to view corporate culture as the iceberg that lives beneath the surface of any wellness program investment. Culture single-handedly determines how much ROI is observable at the top. Companies which lack strong cultures -- where employees feel valued, believe in their company mission, and trust peers and leadership alike -- will continue to see their investments in wellness sink, dragged down by internal dysfunction, fear and mistrust.

There’s no quick and easy way to make wellness programs work, but the right formula is simple. Successful programs accurately reflect employee health needs at the individual level, are built on solid work cultures, and engage employees in a spirit of co-creation. When these dynamics are in place, a wellness program is primed to provide useful, personalized solutions which lead to a healthy return on investment for employees and the company alike.

 

 

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