Trend In Wellness Is Toward Well-Being Programs

Workplace wellness programs are now widespread in the U.S., with more than 70% of larger organizations offering employees access to smoking cessation programs, fitness centers, nutrition counseling, stress management and other services. While these programs are intended to improve both employee health and reduce overall healthcare costs, many employers still struggle to engage their workforce in these programs.

So what can organizations do to improve their wellness programs and motivate employees to take action? By adopting a holistic approach and shifting from wellness to well-being, it’s possible to create a flexible, diverse program that meets employees where they are in their lives and fulfills their needs. For example, a young adult who is training for his first 5k and experiencing stress related to paying student loans will be seeking very different resources than a mother of three managing chronic high blood pressure and caring for her aging parents.

A well-being program goes beyond physical wellness to consider employees’ emotional, financial and social health. This more well-rounded view addresses employees’ needs and provides personalized, integrated solutions to help them reach their goals.

Here are a few best practices to consider that can help with this transition from wellness to well-being and drive employee engagement:

Assess health and culture:  In order to inform the structure of a well-being program, it is critical to understand which issues are the most important to the organization’s workforce. For example, a recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce suggests surveying employees to learn more about the current culture and what types of programs might be well-received. Reviewing aggregate health data about the organization’s workforce, including insurance claims data, biometric screening results and personal health assessments, can also help steer the direction of a program based on the prioritized health needs of the employee population.

Select the right mix:  A one-size-fits-all approach to wellness is not effective for most employees. Based on the results of the initial assessment, organizations can determine what types of offerings will be the most beneficial for their employees as part of an overall well-being approach.

The Wellness Council of America suggests incorporating core programs such as physical activity, healthier eating, stress management, smoking cessation, and medical self-care, which could include health advocacy to help people navigate the complexities of healthcare. Other initiatives may include employee assistance programs (EAPs), financial wellness and resilience training, among many other options.

Communicate often: In addition to understanding the types of programs employees are interested in, it is also useful to learn their communications preferences. Whether via phone, text, email or another channel, reaching employees where they are will have the most impact. Further, consistent communications from the organization, including emails, posters and intranet announcements, will help raise awareness and keep the program top-of-mind for employees.

Offer incentives: Because participation in wellness programs must be voluntary, incentives continue to be an effective means to get employees involved, and offering a mix over time can encourage initial as well as ongoing participation. Keep in mind that organizations offering incentives to complete an HRA or biometric screening are required to comply with recent regulations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which limit both participation and health-contingent financial incentives to 30% of the cost of self-only coverage for both employees and their spouses.

Incentives to engage in other aspects of a wellness program, such as committing to talk with a wellness coach or participate in a walking group, instead fall under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidelines.

Article Continues Below

Find other ways to motivate employees: Competitions can also motivate employees to participate in fun, health-focused activities by building a culture of wellness and creating a support system among colleagues.

Continuously evaluate: By leveraging the initial aggregate data as a baseline, it will be possible to see year-over-year improvements to employee health, finances, productivity and more. This also provides a great opportunity to tweak the mix of well-being offerings to meet the changing needs of an evolving workforce and continue to see the benefits.

Taking steps to implement best practices and shift the focus of workplace wellness from a traditional method to an integrated approach can improve employee health and well-being, enhance engagement, increase productivity, and tackle some of the primary issues that drive healthcare costs.

Pam Mortenson

Pam Mortenson is the Executive Vice President for Wellness Solutions at Health Advocate, a subsidiary of West Corporation. She brings extensive experience in solving healthcare consumer engagement and communication challenges to West/Health Advocate clients. Her expertise and insights center on balancing best in class consumer engagement technologies with lifestyle coaching and support to drive healthier outcomes.