Business of Well-being

High Tech or High Touch ... Why not Both?

High Tech or High Touch ... Why not Both?

Ponder these questions for a moment:

  • Would you like to improve employee engagement in your health and well-being programs?
  • Are you trying to build a culture of health?
  • Is your office environment a barrier to healthy behaviors?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, it might be time to consider infusing your health management strategy with on-site health and wellness activities. A few decades ago, the worksite wellness movement started as a way to build employee health awareness with "lunch and learn" seminars, on-site health fairs and other grassroots efforts.

Today, however, most employers have shifted to more sophisticated wellness programs that are designed to change behavior and are delivered digitally or telephonically. So, what's next for worksite wellness? The answer may sound refreshingly familiar.

On-site Wellness - the Next Frontier

Today's savvy employers are looking to bring wellness back into the workplace. They want to complement their highly scalable phone and digital programs with high-touch, on-site wellness activities, events and promotions. On-site wellness may sound like something from the past, but today's approaches are far from it.

Here are some examples of on-site programs and services that are designed to enable healthy behaviors at work: To increase physical activity: consider on-site fitness services or facilities, recreational activities, walking paths, employee walks and well-lit accessible stairwells.

To improve nutritional choices: consider bringing in a registered dietitian to work with your food service providers and provide nutritional guidance to employees. To improve health care: consider on-site delivery of prescription medications, biometric screenings and establish an on-site medical clinic. Additional examples of on-site wellness activities may also include:

  • Healthy policies (such as a smoke-free campus, bike to work, flexible work schedules)
  • Communications that nudge employees to make good health decisions
  • Dedicated wellness space (for classes, relaxation or consultations)
  • A health-biased focus on the physical environment at work (cafeteria, vending machines, work stations)

Without question, on-site wellness has come a long way from lunch and learn seminars. Optum recently conducted its Fifth Annual Wellness in the Workplace Study, a survey of workplace health management programs among companies of all sizes, which underscores how firmly this "hands-on" approach is taking root. Among the findings of the Optum research:

  • 79 percent of employers administer at least some of their health management programs at an on-site event
  • 69 percent have made or are considering making changes to their physical work environment to promote wellness
  • 58 percent have a staff member whose sole responsibility is to promote wellness
  • 36 percent of large employers have an on-site fitness center

On-site Health Promotion Specialist

At the core of an on-site strategy is an embedded on-site health promotion specialist who can build a culture of health, coordinate health improvement activities and encourage employees to take ownership of their health. These health promotion specialists can help drive wellness strategy in several ways.

First, they can play a critical role in promoting the various programs offered by the company and helping enroll employees. That includes both on-site programs such as fitness centers, as well as off-site initiatives such as telephonic wellness coaching. As someone who is viewed by employees as a peer, specialists personalize the wellness experience and make it convenient for employees to engage in a wellness activity or healthy habit during the workday.

Second, health promotion specialists can enable HR professionals to take a more strategic approach to the company's overall benefit offerings. They can handle program coordination, promotion and implementation on behalf of the HR team.

These specialists are the "feet on the street" who can present upcoming initiatives, attend wellness committee meetings and manage health improvement activities such as bike clubs and walking events. They are often charged with uniting disparate health management offerings - clinical, wellness and behavioral - into a single plan (one calendar of events under one brand).

Third, they can help leverage the physical work environment to support health goals and inspire healthier behaviors. They can easily identify locations where employees make health decisions (like the cafeteria, vending machines and break rooms) and engineer these locations to make healthy choices easy.

For example, on-site health promotion specialists can suggest new food choices and placement strategies in the cafeteria, implement stairwell revitalization projects to nudge employees away from the elevators and create walking meeting campaigns to encourage movement.

Getting Started

Here are some ways that employers can begin to integrate on-site health promotion specialists and services into an existing wellness program:

  • Assess how high-touch activities can complement high-tech interventions. For example, if your phone and digital coaching programs help employees set weight management goals, consider supporting them with healthy food options and group fitness classes.
  • Dedicate professional staff to help administer your strategy. If you don't have a dedicated health and wellness staff, consider bringing on a part-time or full-time on-site health promotion specialist who can champion and expand upon an existing health management strategy.
  • Consider starting with simple activities such as
  1. Walking clubs
  2. Short-term weight loss programs
  3. Group fitness classes in conference rooms
  4. Recreational activities such as ping pong
  5. Wellness "moments" during meetings, such as when a facilitator leads teams in stretches and exercises

About the Author

Chris Ciatto, Senior Vice President, Prevention Solutions, Optum. Chris is responsible for a full complement of health and wellness offerings including leading-edge portal, health challenges, biometric services, health coaching and on-site physical activity and nutrition programs.

Prior to this role, Chris was chief executive officer of Plus One Health Management Inc., which Optum acquired in July 2013. Chris earned a bachelor's degree in political science and economics from Princeton University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

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