Business of Well-being

Mind, Body, Me - A Case Study in Wellness Engagement at Ithaca College

Although a great deal of research has been published that celebrates the return on investment that can be attained by implementing a wellness program that truly saves money and produces a happier, healthier workforce, many organizations still struggle to realize real dividends and find frustration in the lack of participation and impact on their workforce.

Of course, some organizations are more successful than others. Ithaca College has enjoyed an average 32 percent decrease in the cost of individual health insurance/claims per month by employee who have enrolled in its "Mind, Body, Me" wellness program. The success didn't happen overnight.

A Glimpse of Ithaca College

Located on 570 hillside acres in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, Ithaca College is a private institution that boasts of a commitment to a competitive, comprehensive student centered education anchored by a strong liberal arts curriculum that promotes an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to all areas of study.

The college continually ranks high on higher education lists including eighth in the 2014 edition of Best Colleges, North Regional Rankings. Its workforce is comprised of 1,834 total full time faculty and staff serving an undergraduate enrollment of 6,281.

Ithaca's Wellness Program: Purpose

To educate, motivate and empower employees to take control of their health and well-being.The program begins with a clear purpose, then adds the following key ingredients:

  • Committed Human Resource Team - Hub for employees
  • Research
  • Continuous internal employee feedback
  • A well-crafted and culturally responsive implementation plan
  • Targeted, yet realistic goals
  • Continuous evaluation and connection to institution's "Vision"
  • Great communications strategy -- partnering an existing Integrated benefits solution provider for leadership, support and participation
  • Collaborative partnership

How it Works

In 2009, Ithaca College assembled a "Work/Life Action Team" charged with conducting a gap analysis to determine what, if any, gaps existed in its program offered at the time. The gap analysis showed a clear need for a comprehensive and formal approach to address the wellness needs of its workforce.

Ithaca College saw an opportunity to not only address this gap, but also to enhance the overall health and well-being of employees, while possibly even saving money on costly health insurance claims. In 2010, Ithaca implemented a "Pre-Wellness Program Survey" and analyzed the results.

This led to creation of its Wellness Planning Team, led by Robin J. Davis, SPHR, WLCP, Assistant Director Employee Benefits & Work/Life for Ithaca College, the next year. At this time, Ithaca reached out to its existing Work/Life provider, ENI, which specializes in Employee Assistance Programs, and discussed needs and desires to expand the design of its benefits solution by adding a supportive, fully integrated wellness component.

The teams met and began a collaboration and customization process that responded to Ithaca's needs immediately.Instead of adopting a standard wellness program for all employees, Ithaca chose a purposeful, well-crafted plan to customize a solution that produced real results and helped engage employees thoroughly. "Ithaca wanted to create a comprehensive program designed to meet people's individual health and wellness needs in a holistic manner," said Davis.

Some elements of the comprehensive wellness program included completion of a health risk assessment, biometric screenings, fitness assessments, health coaching, monthly wellness presentations and exercise classes.Ithaca also knew that to develop a truly comprehensive and engaging wellness program, integrating and leveraging several internal resources for program design was crucial.

The college engaged campus partners, such as its food and beverage provider for nutrition programming, fitness center and wellness clinic to offer personal training and group exercise classes, and student population, along with various campus and community resources.

"Our careful cultivation of partners allows us to offer premier programming, enhanced services and supportive policies and guidelines, enabling us to effectively manage a unique and successful wellness program," said Davis.Ithaca then launched a 12-18-month pilot program that allowed for purposeful tracking of engagement and evaluated all participant progress.

In 2012, Ithaca also launched the actual holistic wellness program in a series of eight sequential "flights," allowing the administration to control rollout and continually evaluate and adapt the program as needed and ensure never to lose sight of its three main goals: to educate, motivate and empower employees to take control of health and well-being.

The key to engagement is executing a comprehensive communication  strategy that enables wellness participants to utilize the services provided in Mind, Body, Me. Ithaca's communication campaign began with the creation of a consistent look through logo and brand development for increased program recognition.

To ensure optimal engagement, participants are provided with an orientation and welcome packet upon starting the program, which is then communicated regularly through weekly wellness tips, monthly newsletters, frequent email blasts, social media updates, and ongoing resources for supervisors and an online calendar of events.

Lastly, Ithaca created a dashboard to measure program success. To create the dashboard, all strategic partners worked together to pull data points in a confidential and cohesive manner. The integrated data provides the Wellness Team with invaluable feedback for future strategic planning.

Today, Ithaca's human resources department is the "Hub of Wellness" on campus. Ithaca's Wellness Planning Team realized the program would not be successful if employee needs were not met. Because the department is connected to the entire workforce and knows those needs best, human resources was at the hub of the initiative.

Results Are In

In addition to a decrease in employee monthly health insurance/claims, wellness program participants outnumbered employees who did not enroll in preventative screenings by 6 percent. During a two-year period, Ithaca successfully lowered its top four wellness concerns:

  • Weight (BMI) 5 percent decrease from Obese to Overweight
  • Fitness 15 percent of change from high moderate risk to low
  • Nutrition 18 percent of change from high moderate risk to low
  • Total Health 6 percent of change from high moderate risk to low

Program participants also experienced:

  • Total Cholesterol decreased by 3 percent
  • LDL (bad) Cholesterol decreased by 4 percent
  • HDL (good) Cholesterol increased by 5 percent
  • Blood Pressure decreased by 2 percent

Reviews Are In

Ithaca's wellness initiative engaged participants and produced true returns that helped to mitigate costly chronic health conditions and improve the overall physical and behavioral health of the employee population. Mind, Body, Me met objectives set forth by the Wellness Planning Team and influenced program participants.

"MBM became important to me when I realized that I needed motivation to become healthier. MBM encompasses all aspects of life, not just focusing on working out. I needed the coaching and care that MBM gives."

"The Mind, Body, Me program has allowed me to look at my goals more realistically and in a different way. I now look at my total health and wellness and not specific results such as my weight as the end goal. I would like to point out that the staff has been a great resource with exercise and nutrition guidance. It is great to have all of the positive feedback from everyone involved in the program. Thank you for all of the support and encouragement!"

Continued Success

Mind, Body, Me is built upon a solid infrastructure and intentional partnerships, both internally and externally," said Davis. "The flexibility, breadth and depth of the program allow Ithaca College employees to concentrate on personal health goals. Our emphasis is on the total well being of the employee and the positive impact and value that it has to Ithaca College."

Ithaca College's Mind, Body, Me wellness program was designed as an integral element of the overall work/life initiative. The success of the program was due to the collaboration of unique internal and external partners and resources, with the Human Resource Department at center.

Ithaca's wellness model incorporates existing services into a comprehensive wellness program that invests in all employee populations, providing them with an opportunity to take a greater role in optimizing individual health, well-being and job satisfaction.

Instead of just offering a standard wellness program to employees, Ithaca focused on aligning people and programming to drive culture and behavior change. This was ultimately accomplished by utilizing strategic programming, a comprehensive communication campaign and engagement to cultivate an organizational culture of wellness and well being.

*This article was based on a white paper underwritten by LifeSpan, a Salt Lake City-based company that provides easily implemented workplace activity strategies to improve the health of companies both big and small.

About the Author

Cindy McCall is Director of Marketing at ENI, nationally known for the design and delivery of integrated benefit solutions driven by life events.

Learn about how you can become a Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist→