With the recent explosion of workplace wellness over the past decade, we have witnessed the evolution of a genuine stand-alone health industry. Amongst the myriad of emerging vendors how does one determine the value of services being offered? This article uses best-practice and benchmarking research on the efficacy of successful corporate health and wellness initiatives to identify key factors that organizations considering an investment should seek.
Finding the best possible value in a wellness service for an organization depends on pairing the unique needs of that organization with specific measurable outcomes from providers. Knowing the correct questions to ask can be the differentiator in finding synergy with the most appropriate vendor, leading to successful and profitable program outcomes. Are all programs created equal? Can all programs actually add value to your organization?
There is no doubt that a good program will provide value to almost any organization. Research by government bodies, scientific experts and real world trial and error basically emits a constant ooze of compelling evidence highlighting the economic pluses of workplace health promotion programs at all levels: personal, organizational and community.
But what constitutes as good, and how do you find it in an increasingly swollen provider market? A good program will successfully identify and address the root causes of health and productivity costs to your business. The financial return, from a business sense, manifests through improved productivity and sustainability of a healthier workforce, in addition to improved job engagement, satisfaction and the reduced costs of medical care.
Poor health hurts your business, but what is the key driver of poor health? The chief adversary of optimal wellness are the poor lifestyle and health behavior choices made by our population, the CDC estimates that they are responsible for as much as 70% of healthcare costs. When an individual's health deteriorates, there are concomitant erosions in a range of parameters, such as physical capacity, energy levels and tolerance to stress; all of which greatly affect their ability to be productive at work.
An employee not working to their potential becomes a direct expense to your organization. The extent to which health affects an employee's productivity has been well established and measured in terms of thousands of dollars annually; increasing exponentially depending on the number of health risk factors a person exhibits.
When reviewing potential workplace wellness initiatives, you are looking for elements that make a program cost effective. In the same way that mounting health risk factors can inhibit an employee's ability to perform well at work; decreasing health risk factors and improving employee's salubrious behaviors will improve their energy levels, work performance, and, according to recent information, their engagement in their job.
If this last benefit is true (enhanced job engagement) then not only do you get better value in the sense of work-per-salary-dollar in the short-term, you will also improve retention, spawning a more experienced, innovative and competitive workforce in the long-term.
When the savings generated from improved employee productivity, reduced absenteeism, reduced employee turnover and medical cost savings overtake the amount it costs to implement and manage your workplace health promotion program you begin to generate a return on your investment (ROI).
Thus one of the most significant factors in producing a return, and a key differentiating measure of value will be a program's ability to change the health behaviors of your workers. Does a given program you may be reviewing present an opportunity to actually facilitate real changes in the lifestyle behaviors and subsequent health risks of real people... your people?
In order to achieve the outcome of measurable change, there are two elements a prospective program or vendor must possess: an ability to get a high rate of active participation AND an ability to generate change within those participants.
- A program that involves every single one of your employees, but does not encourage any of them to change will have little impact.
- A hypothetical intervention with 100% behavior change outcome that none of your employees participates in will also have little or no impact.
The notion that these characteristics form a foundation for successful programs is not new, and has been well established in literature and yet in practice they are still not widely achieved. If your organization is considering a move towards investing in employee health, be scrupulous in reviewing potential partners to manage or deliver these services.
Whether you are running the gauntlet at a health and safety trade show, reviewing marketing brochures, perusing the web or inviting bids for a contract - learn to blow smoke away from marketing mirrors and understand the numbers. Keep it simple.Does your potential provider demonstrate success in generating wide-spread active participation of workforce populations?
If they report participation rates of 'target groups', 'high risk employees' or the rate at which 'those who began the program finished the program' it may not justify automatic dismissal, but it should stimulate you to ask more questions.
Benchmarking research suggests that the participation rates for the most successful workplace health promotion programs are at least 60% of the entire work population. Further, noted researchers suggest that the bar must be set much higher, and that truly high value outcomes will be found in programs that can deliver 90% participation or above.
With average participation in many current workplace health programs snagged around 30% or below, it is fair to say that many organizations are not capitalizing on their investment. Does your potential provider demonstrate evidence-based interventions, or demonstrate a clear link between their services and behavioral theory?
If they offer a lot of interesting looking activities, you need to ask yourself about how cohesive the components are, and how effective they will be at not only facilitating genuine change within your workforce, but sustaining that change long-term. There are other aspects of evaluating vendors you may consider, such as their methods of risk assessment, program review and outcome analysis.
Ensuring that the program delivery modalities are suitable to your workplace is also essential, however many of these aspects will be organization-specific. These finer characteristics will help you pinpoint your ideal vendor from your short-list. It's the creation of your short-list from the greater pool in which the principles of potential value most come in to play.
Does the vendor demonstrate an intimate understanding of workplace health promotion? Does the program have a demonstrated ability to achieve widespread and sustained change of employee health behaviors? This is the single measure by which you can determine the true value potential of profitable and sustainable programs.
As this arm of the health industry matures, there is a growing field of potential vendors, partners and resources to consider. The benefit, however is that these types of programs have now been in existence long enough to enable us to distinguish between the types of approaches that work, and those that do not, meaning you can find successful partners, as long as you know what you are looking for.
References for quoted figures:
- "The Health and Cost Benefits of Work-site Health Promotion Programs"; Goetzel & Ozminkowski, Annu. Rev. Public Health (29), 2008
- Dee Edington "Zero Trends: Health as a Serious Economic Strategy", 2009
- Center for Disease Control website: www.cdc.gov
- National Business Group on Health website: www.businessgrouphealth.org
About the Author
Andrew Stephenson is the US Business Development Manager for Health by Design International, an award winning workplace health and injury prevention program provider. Working in the health industry in 3 countries over the past 7 years has provided abundant educational and professional development experiences.
With insight into effective practices in this industry from across the globe, Andrew is well qualified to help review your current health and productivity management approaches and identify areas where you can add real value. Contactable via firstname.lastname@example.org or view the website at www.hbdinternational.com