Wellness programs can help you encourage good health habits in your organization. And that is key for healthier employees, fewer illnesses and related healthcare costs, and potential savings on employee benefits. Still, many employers look for guidance when it comes to implementing a wellness program: What activities should be included? Do incentives work? How effective are wellness programs overall? How much am I really saving?
Two strategies can be very useful to employers looking to launch an employee wellness program:
- Imitating what other companies have done successfully
- Working with your health insurance company or health plan administrator
Wellness Programs Best Practices
When choosing to implement a wellness program, consider the following to achieve the best results:
- Work with your health plan. Many health plans offer wellness program options, and they are experts in understanding what wellness strategies work best and how to measure success.
- Conduct biometric screenings or health questionnaires. These help employees identify the areas in which they can improve their health. Also, employers can receive confidential, non-identifiable population results that can help with tracking how employee health overall has improved year to year.
- Offer programs specific to your employee population needs. What are the health risks associated with your workforce? Do employees struggle with tobacco use, obesity, stress or being sedentary? Build a wellness program with the services your employees need.
Corporate Wellness Case Studies
When building your own wellness program, it can help to review the progress of others. The following describes the wellness efforts and measures of success used by two employer groups, as published in a 2013 study by the RAND Company for the United States Department of Labor.
- Employer A: a large university. The management of this group decided to provide assistance to faculty, staff, students and dependents to quit smoking, reduce stress and improve morale. As part of the corporate wellness program, leaders offered a health screening, an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), Weight Watchers® memberships, smoking cessation resources and on-site wellness events, including wellness lectures and seminars, yoga, meditation, massage therapy sessions and online health information. All wellness activities, aside from the health screening, smoking cessation, EAP and some lectures, were available at a discounted price to participants.
Leaders at Employer A believed that the desire to be healthy should be the strongest motivator for participation; therefore, they did not offer incentives to those who participated in wellness activities. However, they did waive monthly insurance premiums for non-smokers or for smokers who participated in the smoking cessation services.
This employer mostly evaluates program success based on participant testimonials, observed participation at events and comparison to the wellness programs of other area schools. They consider their wellness efforts a success based on positive staff feedback and outstanding attendance at wellness events.
- Employer B: a service organization. This group chose to focus on stress reduction and chronic disease management, with the goal of reduced healthcare costs. Employer B worked with the company health plan to offer the wellness program, monitor employees’ health results and calculate Return on Investment, or ROI. Services offered to participants included: an online health questionnaire, biometric screenings, smoking cessation services, gym membership reimbursement, a disease management program, wellness education, including the promotion of preventive care, healthier food options on-site, and access to a workplace workout facility, as well as various wellness events throughout the year.
Participants received various cash incentives for completing the biometric screening and online health questionnaire. Also, if they identified themselves as smokers with no intention to quit, they paid a higher insurance premium each year.
The results this employer experienced are quite positive. 41 percent of all employees have participated in at least one of the wellness activities over the past five years. Annual biometric screenings have indicated improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels and glucose levels. This employer is also saving on healthcare costs. In 2009, it saved $111 per employee, and in 2010, $261 per employee, with expectations for continued savings. The ROI was calculated at 2.5:1, meaning the group saved $2.50 for every dollar spent on the wellness program.
Practice makes perfect
Wellness programs work, but it may take time to see results. This is because it can take a while for your staff to embrace new, healthy behaviors and make important lifestyle changes. It may take several years of screening results to identify the metrics of your organization. Working with a health plan can be the best way to start on the path to a successful wellness program, and track the outcomes of your wellness program.
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