Business of Well-being

Corporate Wellness Programs - What's Working, What's Not

Employee engagement is crucial to sustaining a strong wellness program. The initial goal of implementing a wellness program within an organization is to reduce healthcare costs. And while that goal has remained constant as the corporate wellness industry has grown over the last five years, other priorities by employers have surfaced, too, such as boosting in-house productivity, looking into financial wellness options and driving loyalty among employees.

To maintain a solid program and increase its effectiveness requires participation from the top down, explained Denise Holland, president and owner, Inside Employee Wellness & Consulting, Knightdale, North Carolina. Holland believes when company leadership is involved and also visible within the program, it boosts company culture.

"When we talk about the culture of wellness, it is a nebulous concept," Holland expressed. "Some companies are proud of themselves, but the reality is if you've got company leadership behind the program and are visible by participating in it, too, that helps. Do most leadership do this? No. That has been extremely disappointing. They spend a lot of money but do not actually go through the health fair and rarely walk the walk."

Holland noted that some of the reasons for the lack of participation by C-suite executives include busy schedules and fear of being seen as weak. "They do not want to be seen as equals as employees. It is a shame because you lead by example. The ones who are doing it, do it well. They are the ones who are creating the culture, they are firmly behind it and encouraging participation."

Goals today within wellness programs are different than five years ago. Today the goals employers set out to reach are a lot less quantitative. They want healthier employees; they want them to eat better. Wellness programs are also becoming a common staple within an organization. Employers are recognizing they need to embrace the value of the investment, dubbed VOI, as well as the return on the investment, which is ROI.

The industry standard for ROI is 3-eto-1. For every dollar spent, an employer should receive $3 back within three to five years of implementing a program. But Holland says that number varies.

"When you have a program that has a behavioral change component to it and the leader is making engaged decisions, I've seen a higher than 3-to-1 ratio for companies who hold onto that," she said. "But it really varies dramatically on how well the program is designed and it is more than health fairs and screenings."

The most successful wellness programs are outcomes-based programs, which Holland cited as programs with the most successful ROI.

"Once employees start doing that, they are a lot more likely to have strong lifestyle changes," she added, noting that the true workhorses of wellness are the human resources staff.

By the third year of a program, engagement can be tough. If an employer has not switched to an outcomes based program or done anything significant to bolster engagement, then engagement will suffer. An outcomes based program that involves incentives encourages employees to participate and be responsible. When employees are held accountable, they consider that internally-then they want the education and resources to get it.

"I think we find that employees are scared to make employees accountable for doing this," Holland said. "We want to get them working toward a number and hold their feet to the fire. The incentive debate around white-collared companies are the majority. But the majority of folks are not white-collared folks and they need wellness programs more. They get paid to create widgets, they work, and they get something. That is how their reward philosophy already works. Incentives do work but they have to be the right incentive.Overall, cash is king."

The biggest and most successful wellness outcome employers are experiencing are weight loss-and they are very proud. Weight loss and weight management are the biggest part of the value on investment employers cite in their success.

Holland forecasted that as employers look beyond the bottom line, they will boost their focus on participation rates of employees and whether or not they are not only taking advantage of gym discounts, biometric screenings and company 5k events but that they like participating in them, too. For companies that are struggling, she still believes an outcomes-based program works.

"Companies are willing to do this, and I think we will see more of this over time," she said. "They are going slowly than I think people thought they would but you will see improvement in wellness numbers in time."

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