Business of Well-being

GE Brings Wellness to Life

We asked Jason Morgan, director of Global Health and Wellness at GE Healthcare, about the company's wellness program and ROI, creating a culture of wellness, and the role of incentives, gamification and much more.

Corporate Wellness Magazine:
What about the wellness program at GE?

Jason Morgan: The GE Healthcare wellness program consists of creating healthy environments like healthy cafeterias and fitness center reimbursements if there is no onsite fitness center at that location, health coaching, and a variety of behavior change programs.

We have a wellness platform where employees can choose which behavior change program they want to engage in. These programs provide education, resources and social support. Programs consist of nutrition coaching/meal planning, online personal training and exercise prescriptions, and energy management training.

Employees can participate either online or in person, depending on the region, and vary between eight and 12 weeks. Within the platform is the wellness challenge creator. The challenges are team-based, and focus on exercise and nutrition. Employees can sync their wearable device to the platform to help track their steps and exercise time.

Employees are automatically eligible for these programs upon hire. We emphasize our programs and resources during new employee orientation and communicate regularly through various channels. Employees can register for programs by going directly to our wellness website. Employees going through the program would register online.

Once registered, the employee would receive an email or message indicating how to start and navigate the program. During the beginning stages, they also have the option to recruit a friend, or friends, to participate with them. Upon completion of the program, the employee would choose whether they wanted to engage in another program. Programs can last anywhere from 12 weeks to a year depending on their interests. We have a 52-week diabetes prevention program, or an 8-week physical activity program.

CWM: How do you participate in the wellness program?

JM: I'm an active member of our on-site fitness center and visible during health fairs, screenings, wellness challenges, and by providing insight in our newsletter and blog.

CWM: Do you think that it makes a difference to how well employees receive their program?

JM: Leadership engagement makes a difference in how our people receive the programs. If leadership participates, it sends a message to everyone else that it's fine to participate and to use work time to engage in healthy behaviors. As much as this helps the employee, it also helps the company improve morale and create a culture of health.

CWM: What sorts of goals do you set for the wellness program, how do you define success?

JM: There are a few goals that I set including engagement/participation, satisfaction and, in some cases, biometric outcomes. I look at wellness a little differently, and don't always focus on your typical biometric data. While that is important, and in some cases can help generate an ROI for the program, I focus more on happiness and satisfaction. If someone enjoys the program and had fun, they're more likely to continue with the program, which means sustained success. Our program doesn't strive to produce an ROI; but satisfaction and happiness.

CWM: More and more wellness leaders are looking beyond ROI, so what are you looking to?

JM: Our leaders are looking for improved morale, productivity and happiness. The goal is to create a culture of health that everyone "feels" when they walk into our buildings. Studies have shown that improved morale and happiness lead to increases in retention and productivity, which can yield significant savings.

CWM: Have the leaders at GE seen an ROI and, if not, are you concerned?

JM: While our program definitely looks to improve the overall health of our employees, we did not create it with the sole purpose of generating ROI. Our leadership thought it was the right thing to do and a way to help increase morale and happiness, so we developed the program. That said, one of our recent programs (a global exercise program) generated an estimated annual savings of $58,011.55. This was based off BMI reduction from a group of 473 people participating in the program.

CWM: Did you implement the wellness program, or did you hire a consultant. If so, how much value has that relationship added to the program?

JM: We did not hire a consultant or vendor to implement our program. I was responsible for developing our strategy and vision and for implementing the various initiatives. I use vendors to assist with aspects of our programs and see value in using them. These relationships have grown and allow me to drive a holistic program, meeting the needs of a global population.

CWM: We hear a lot about creating a "culture of wellness." How important has that been to your program?

JM: Creating a culture of wellness is the foundation of our program. The two most important aspects of a wellness program are leadership and environment. That is what creates your culture. I started with implementing a tobacco free workplace at each of our work-sites globally, then creating healthy cafeterias and vending machines.

We have on-site fitness centers at many of our sites, and where we don't, we have walking trails or a room onsite where classes can be taught. For a culture of health to be created, wellness must be present in most, if not all business operations. When GE employees travel they receive an email with tools and resources to pack or leverage during their trip.

Some employees don't like to participate in programs, but they appreciate being able to order anything in the cafeteria and know that it's been certified as healthy. From the tobacco-free signs posted when you enter the parking lot, to the wellness vision statement posted on the building entrances, it's evident that we are serious about creating a healthy culture for our employees.

CWM: Would you say that you have achieved that culture? How do you know?

JM: Yes, employees routinely talk about the different resources and tools available to them. All managers are required to help communicate wellness programs and encourage/support participation in them. We have now seen managers leading many walking meetings or incorporating a stretching session prior to the start of an indoor meeting. Our president and CEO use other wearable devices, and blog about their travels that often include pictures or stories about getting a workout in while on the road.

CWM: Wellness program engagement can wane over time. Have you experienced this and how did you remedy it?

JM: Yes, I have. I think it's normal to have this happen. Behavior change isn't easy, and often time takes multiple attempts. To remedy this, I build a lot of digital and social networking tools into our programs. Peer support and social networks have proven to be effective in sustaining behaviors change.

I also make sure that all of the programs that I develop are available on a mobile device, making it easier for the employee to engage in the program. Gamification is also something that is growing and has become a part of our programs. Since this was incorporated, we've seen a 30-percent increase in our engagement rates.

CWM: There is a lot of debate around the effectiveness of incentives. What is your incentive philosophy?

JM: With many of our programs, we implement a cost-sharing approach where the employee helps cover some of the up-front cost, with the business sharing the other part of it. Upon completion of the program, we provide reimbursement to the employee for their portion of the cost, as well as an extra incentive based on outcomes.

Once the employee has "skin in the game," they become more likely to complete the program. However, we don't do this with every program. The other programs are free to employees, but do not provide an incentive for participation. Instead, to drive engagement, we leverage our leadership team to help promote and be the first to register, encouraging their team to join them.

I have found this to be more effective than an incentive because most employees enjoy the opportunity to engage in something other than work with their colleagues. It has proven to be effective at building team morale as well. As an example, we do not provide an incentive for biometric screenings; yet, have a 69-percent participation rate from our U.S. employee population.

Incentivizing participation with a gift card or other item might help drive engagement initially, but you also risk a low retention rate (due to those signing up just for the incentive) and the investment you made on incentives does not yield the return that you expected.

Lastly, I find more value in creating a healthy environment and using funds to subsidize healthy cafeterias, vending machines, and exercise venues. These are year-round programs that engage employees in healthy behaviors, not just for eight to 12 weeks.

CWM: Are there any program outcomes at this point? If not, do you think that you will move in that direction? Why or why not?

JM: Aside from our recent global exercise program, we are not looking at outcomes in the traditional sense. Instead, we're evaluating participation, retention, and satisfaction. However, with each of the programs, I'm always looking at various other data points, such as biometrics, or levels of exercise through wearable device integration.

The most important thing to us is that we continue to provide employees with a variety of programs to engage in. We take a holistic approach and ensure that we focus on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Some of these programs don't generate the type of data that would generate a traditional ROI. What they can generate however, is improved morale, engagement and productivity.

CWM: What is the wellness outcome that you are the most proud of at this point? What would you really love to achieve within the next two years?

JM: A couple of things quickly come to mind. The environmental policies that we have in place for nutrition, tobacco, fitness, and my wellness champion network that now includes 115 people, located at each of our work-sites globally where we have more than 50 employees.

This group helps drive the programs that I develop and brings together a global population onto a single wellness platform. Another thing that I'll mention would be the way in which I have been able to recruit our senior leaders to be active participants in our programs and to be advocates for culture change. Leadership has been the single biggest reason for the success of our programs.

Currently, I'm working on building a new wellness website, with a mobile app. The new wellness website is the beginning of the new GEHC Wellness YOUniverse that I'm developing, which will be the central hub for all of our programs.

I'm in the process of building a portfolio of programs that align with the four pillars of our program; physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Employees will be able to access the platform, engage in behavior change programs, communicate and support other colleagues, join fun challenges, receive coaching and, most importantly, receive culturally relevant wellness information based on their geographic region.

This would also serve as a central hub for all data collection from our programs. I expect that this will take another nine months or so to complete. We've made some great strides and I expect that sooner rather than later, wellness will be integrated into our overall business operation plan.

We already consider wellness when acquiring a new location or when building a new facility, accounting for a medical clinic or fitness center build-outs. Three years ago, this would not have been considered. Now, it's one of the first things that leadership looks at.

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