How to Simplify Your Wellness Program Evaluation

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Among the events that continue to shape the dynamic, ever-changing worksite wellness industry, there certainly is a lot of discussion on program evaluation these days. For years, many organizations - especially larger employers - relied heavily on various levels of return on investment (ROI) calculations to judge the financial worth of their wellness efforts. Yet, nowadays, value on investment (VOI) based evaluation is the new kid on the block as more organizations expand the scope of their worksite wellness value propositions around employee-centric benefits like self-esteem, morale, loyalty, quality of work life, and personal life satisfaction.


Ironically, as VOI has gained a lot of traction in the past several years, some industry observers question the value of ROI in worksite wellness evaluation. Yet, amidst all of the smoke and mirrors, a couple of recent surveys suggest that VOI can complement - not replace - ROI indices in current and future worksite wellness evaluations. Of course, this hybrid approach - combining VOI's qualitative metrics with ROI's financial metrics - makes a lot of sense for organizations that want to assess the total return on value (ROV) of their aggregate wellness efforts.


As you sort out evaluation options on your worksite wellness doorstep, it's important to develop a simple evaluation plan that all stakeholders - employees, wellness staff, and senior management - can endorse. How can you make simplicity the cornerstone of an evaluation? In working with hundreds of organizations on their wellness evaluation projects over the years, I have found that evaluation planning can be greatly simplified by using a set of decision points.


What is a decision point? A simple way to envision a decision point is to look at each of questions tied to particular dimensions and components listed in Table 1. For example, each of the dimensions reflects Socratic-based queries to consider in planning an evaluation, while components reflect broadly defined categories of an evaluation.


So, when you and your colleagues are planning an evaluation of a new or existing wellness program, policy, activity, or incentive, consider using these Socratic-based prompts to guide your plan of action. Moreover, develop an evaluation plan that has some relevance - that is, align your evaluation metrics and methods with your program goals and the implementation process.


For instance, if you're planning to evaluate a 6-month diabetes management program, use state-of-the-art biometric instruments to accurately measure both blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c levels to ensure that short-term (e.g., weekly) and intermediate (e.g., monthly and quarterly) biomarker levels and progress can be properly assessed.


An evaluation plan should also be practical - that is, evaluation efforts should be conducted within an organization's means and in perspective to the overall scale of the intervention itself. For instance, if you're gradually introducing wearable technologies into your employee wellness offerings, then select devices that have built-in features and metrics that can easily be integrated into your existing [or planned] evaluation platform.

Evaluation Planning Decision Points

Naturally, you want to customize an evaluation plan around your organization's wellness goals, worksite culture, evaluation resources, and level of available evaluation expertise. For starters, an evaluation action plan is greatly enhanced when the intervention it is assessing contains goals that are developed around the following five criteria:

  1. Compatibility with stakeholders' personal health and/or values: participants, wellness staff, senior management, and other stakeholders perceive the selected outcome variables to be tangible, pertinent, and of high value.
  2. Measurability: evaluators can physically and/or statistically measure changes that may occur in the outcome variable (e.g., risk factor prevalence, behavior, cost trends, etc.)
  3. Quantifiability: evaluators can track and attach a numerical value to the outcome variable.
  4. Sufficient intervention time frame: the wellness intervention is offered long enough to reasonably make a favorable impact.
  5. Realistic achievability: the specific intervention is likely to favorably impact the outcome variable(s).

For example, a sample goal that incorporates all five criteria is: "Within six months (time frame), 80 percent (realistically achievable) of the male employee population (stakeholders) will have blood pressure levels of 130/85 or less (quantifiable) as measured during their annual biometric screening (measurability)."

Avoiding the Shortcut Pitfalls

Too often, worksite wellness personnel skip the important task of establishing a clear, concise, and realistic evaluation plan of action. Consequently, tracking and measuring appropriate employee -and- organizational health indicators tied to the actual wellness intervention can be challenging, at best.

These pitfalls can be avoided by investing quality time and effort upfront to develop appropriate questions for each of the key components within a respective evaluation. By and large, this gives you and your team a strong platform to develop of vision of why an evaluation is needed, what actions need to be performed, who is responsible for each action, when key tasks need to be conducted, where key actions are conducted, and how they should be performed.


By adopting this Socratic approach in each aspect of your evaluation plan, you can enhance your evaluation efforts and, thereby, determine - sooner, rather than later - if you're on the right track.

About the Author

David Chenoweth, Ph.D., FAWHP - is president of Chenoweth & Associates, Inc., an international worksite wellness econometrics firm. Since 1979, he has written several worksite wellness planning and evaluation books and two EPG reports published by the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation. He recently developed CorpwellRx - the industry's first 3-in-1 online worksite wellness calculator.