Worksite Wellness

25 Years in Wellness: From Employee Engagement to Competitive Advantage

Susan Piglia
Assistant Vice President
Ochsner Health System
Wellness Programs

At the start of my career in the healthcare industry, wellness programs were primarily a human resources conversation to support employee engagement. Being responsible for “wellness” was not always seen as a desirable role. In my first position as a wellness program manager, our team was focused on health fairs. We provided health screenings and education about a limited number of chronic illnesses and health issues, including hypertension, cholesterol, diabetes, and skin cancer.

Wellness Conversations in the C-Suite

Fast forward to today, and wellness is a hot topic in the C-suite. The Affordable Care Act expanded the ability for organizations to incentivize participation in wellness programs [1]. Now, CEOs and CFOs are interested in both lowering healthcare costs and enhancing the health and well-being of employees. Business leaders understand that promoting wellness programs increases employee retention and attracts top talent.

When human capital is critical to business success, emphasizing wellness programs — as a direct contributor to employee engagement, productivity and loyalty — can boost an organization’s bottom line.

Advice for Wellness as a Competitive Advantage

An effective wellness program is comprehensive, fully implemented and rigorously evaluated. Over my 25-year career in the healthcare and wellness industry, I’ve had the pleasure of working with organizations of all sizes to establish successful wellness programs. Here’s my advice on the top five ways companies can leverage wellness as a competitive advantage.

  1. Executive Buy-In:

    Senior leaders need to communicate why wellness is important to team members, along with the positive impact of the program on the company’s business objectives. In many cases, a culture change is required, shifting the organizations’ mindset to prioritize health, wellness and work-life balance. Executives must also participate in the wellness program. In my experience, employees will more readily embrace your wellness program when the organization’s leaders serve as role models and promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
  2. Easy for Employers and Employees:

    A wellness program needs to be simple to understand and easy to implement. Include a few basic requirements, such as health risk assessments, biometric screenings, a measurable fitness component, health education, as well as ongoing programming to incentivize healthier habits.

    Ochsner Health System, Louisiana’s largest non-profit, academic healthcare system with over 20,000 employees, developed their Pathway to Wellness Program over 15 years ago.  Pathway to Wellness is powered by Go365®, a personalized wellness and rewards program, to encourage easy lifestyle changes and activities that make a positive impact on our employees. Our data demonstrates wellness programs achieve healthy results [3].

    A recent internal analysis [2] of Ochsner employees who participated in Pathway to Wellness between January 1, 2018 and August 31, 2019 showed:

    • 5% improvement in members eating 5+ servings of fruits and vegetables per day
    • 10% improvement in members participating in physical activity 150 minutes per week
  3. Environmental and Policy Changes:

    The success of a wellness program may require changes in corporate policies and the workplace environment. For example, shift schedules may need to be adjusted to accommodate workplace health screenings, education sessions and wellness activities. Environmental changes may require new vending machines that include healthier snack options, offering standing desks or adding walking paths inside or outside the office building.
  4. Enhance Engagement with Personalized Approaches:

    Tailor your wellness programs to your organization’s population health, lifestyle risks and readiness to change. In addition, each worksite within your organization is different with unique characteristics that you can use to get team members engaged in your wellness program. What is successful in one location may not work at another location.

    In one situation, a vendor offered vacation time as an incentive to participate in the wellness program. However, many team members were not able to use vacation time because of busy schedules, making the incentive less desirable. Wellness program incentives must be valuable and usable for your employees. It’s important to find out what will motivate your associates.

    Another key to increasing employee engagement is to keep the wellness program fresh. Raise the bar each year by adding new and exciting elements to your program.

    At Ochsner Health System, our Pathway to Wellness program recently introduced digital medicine. All employees have access to free digital hypertension and digital diabetes programs with the ability to receive rewards through Go365. Team members who receive a diagnosis for hypertension or diabetes can visit the O Bar, Ochsner’s retail stores offering interactive technology that manage health and wellness, to receive a digital blood pressure cuff or a digital glucometer. When associates take their readings, the data is automatically uploaded to the patient medical record and reviewed by a pharmacist who can make recommendations and adjust medication in real-time. Employees are rewarded for uploading those results. The program has made a remarkable impact in controlling hypertension and diabetes in our organization.

    Another vital component to the success of the program is a having a wellness champion at each worksite or in each department. Champs, working side by side with their peers, are uniquely positioned to educate their co-workers, support communications about webinars and educational sessions, promote health screening events and cheer on their colleagues during wellness activities and challenges.
  5. Extending Business Impact:

    Providing an immediate return on investment is challenging because wellness programs usually require an upfront expenditure with positive results manifesting over time.

    Establishing a robust wellness portal is imperative to proving the business case for a comprehensive wellness program. We use three metrics to prove the progress being made through our wellness program:

    Steps – Every Ochsner employee gets a pedometer. Based on CDC recommendations to walk 7,000+ steps daily, we measure success when our employees take more than 7,000 steps, five days a week. In fact, a recently released report published by RAND Europe says if every employee walked or jogged an extra 15 minutes daily, the world could see an economic boost of $100 billion.

    Lowering health risks – Through the Go365 App, we offer annual Health Assessments for all team members. The Health Assessments allow us to compare our employee population’s risk levels year over year.

    Biometric screening – Ochsner provides onsite biometric screenings for all co-workers. At the same time, co-workers can visit with a registered nurse to review the results and discuss recommendations for improvement. If a follow-up is recommended, we can schedule the doctor’s appointment immediately. Our physicians across the health system typically can accommodate same day or next day appointments for co-workers.

    For Ochsner, it’s important to know the numbers but even more important to do something with those numbers. Our goal is to connect our co-workers with a primary care physician and make the necessary changes that will have a positive impact on screening results the following year. This allows our team members to truly be the quarterbacks for their own health.

Addressing Chronic Disease to Control Costs

Another important metric to showcase the value of a wellness program is to address chronic disease. According to the CDC, chronic disease accounts for 86% of healthcare spending [4]. More than 50% of Americans now have at least one chronic disease [5].

Many costs associated with chronic disease are avoidable with simple lifestyle changes. Since most adults spend the majority of their waking hours at their jobs, a very effective way to impact positive changes is to establish a workplace wellness program. Linking lifestyle with chronic disease elevates the value of wellness programs.

The key is to identify the highest health risk areas. Then leverage your wellness program to customize intervention initiatives, education, wellness activities, incentives and regular health screenings to address the areas of concern.

Over the years, I have seen how a comprehensive wellness program will become a competitive advantage for organizations. By harnessing support from executives, developing proactive communications and periodic monitoring with appropriate evaluation, your wellness initiatives will reap rewards.

For more ideas on developing a culture of health and wellness and elevating your wellness program into a competitive advantage, visit or contact your Humana sales rep.

Go365 is not an insurance product and is not available with all Humana health plans.

These non-insurance services are provided by Humana. These services are not guaranteed for the lifetime of the policy and may be discontinued at any time.

References & Footnotes:

[1] The ACA, The ADA, And Wellness Program Incentives, Kristin Madison, 5/13/15.

[2] Analysis includes a cohort of Ochsner Go365 members that completed a Health Assessment in 2018 and in 2019, and compares the first measured value in 2018 to the most recent value in 2019 for each member.

[3] The Economic Benefits of Improving People’s Physical Activity Levels, RAND Europe, Nov. 2019

[4] Health and Economics Costs of Chronic Disease, CDC.

[5] More than 50 percent of Americans now have at least one chronic health condition, Taylor & Francis, 10/25/16

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