Wellness: How to Make it Work for your Company

Since way back in the 1980's articles have been published about the future of healthcare in America, including several by the above authors covering the direction of health and wellness programs. Over the years, some things have changed, but remarkably most things have stayed the same. For years, employers were told to outsource their wellness promotion, administration and delivery.

Is that still true today? Let us take a real time look at the current approach to Wellness Programs.

Now most companies have heard of, would like to implement, or may have even attempted to offer a wellness program. However, most have found they are too busy fighting tough economic times and watching expenses trying to make a profit to divert attention or expenses into the intangible world of wellness.


While the concept of wellness may seem to be much more philosophical than the task of producing a product or service for a profit, they really have more in common than not. As companies strive to improve their processes and focus on the bottom line "health" of their business, the same happens to be true for their most valued assets, their employees.


The happier and healthier the employee population, the better the productivity and lower the health care costs against trend - all of which add up to help improve the company's bottom line.

So how does a busy owner or leadership team incorporate a wellness program without taking their eye off the business of day-to-day company responsibilities? Here are some areas to consider and explore.

Understanding your Company and its Unique Culture

Respecting your culture and designing a program that meets the unique needs of your population are essential in building a wellness program. We recommend surveying your employees to see what interests them and noting what the circumstances are specific to your company. Do you have one location, branch offices, multiple shifts and/or remote sales staff? All these factors will ultimately need consideration when you sit down to design your program.

A lot has been written about whether it is best to try to manage a wellness program "in-house" with your existing staff responsible for all aspects of implementation and management, or to contract with an "outsourced solution provider" to run your program. In the end, the answer is BOTH. We believe that certain items must remain under your control, while other features will be better delivered via outsourced solutions.

With this in mind, the question is not whether it makes sense for a company to offer a wellness program, but more importantly, how to incorporate a program that will capture the attention of the employees, drive engagement on a personal level and ultimately create a culture of health improvement.


Every company is different, so the solutions will not all look the same. The key is to match a company's available "internal" resources with a complimentary set of outsourced "external" resources - all in an effort to design and sustain an effective wellness initiative that pays dividends over the long term. For example, you cannot outsource culture.


Your existing culture is largely internal in nature, and shifting it in a healthier direction needs to be managed "organically" from within as well. Outside influences can be enlisted, but in the end, your employees are internal and will shape your culture from the ground up. There are internal components that must be maintained within the company to be effective.


Leadership must be involved, "walking the talk" and communications that are reinforced through internal "program champions" are a necessity to be successful in the integration of healthy living into a company's culture.

What about That Age-old Question: Does Corporate Wellness Work?

YES, corporate wellness does work. But you need all the ingredients and it's important to follow the recipe. If you cut corners or skip steps, you will be disappointed. Conceptually, think of it like the opposite of insurance, where the purpose is to pool resources to protect against the losses of the few.


Instead, wellness promotes good health, challenges everyone to take steps toward healthier living and while not everyone will be successful, if a sufficient few "catch the bug" it will ultimately help to improve the overall cost basis, while supporting increased productivity and lower absenteeism at the same time.


The key is to provide programs, tools and resources that motivate the incremental changes needed to move the needle in a positive direction - for both individual well-being and for group health as a whole.

What is the Future of Corporate Wellness?

Wellness programs will continue to gain momentum in the corporate landscape - they are essential to the health and productivity of employees and employers cannot assume that society will solve the culture of health issues for them. To be successful with your wellness program, you can learn from the experience of others.


Over the years, we have found several common factors that are required to support a culture of healthy change. These include cost effective platforms that personalize the experience for all participants, leadership and internal champions to keep the momentum going, and incentive programming designed to foster awareness, participation and sustain focus over time. (Look for more details on these topics in our companion article next month.)

Outsourcing: What to Know for Now...

1) Outsourcing will continue to grow, and then decline. The growth in outsourcing of human resources and employee benefits has been increasing for all sizes of employers. Employers use outsourcing to maintain or improve service to employees; reduce workload to existing staff; reduce program costs; and to free up resources to focus on other key objectives, like building their widgets for a profit.

While it appears that outsourcing can improve service and reduce costs, an employer must prove that outsourcing does both. Many managers are often too concerned about the number of full-time employees (FTEs) in their units to the detriment of profitability.

Management of any size firm should be more concerned with profits and results than with the apparent "pseudo- efficiency" in decreasing the number of FTEs. Managing the bottom line and increasing the profitability of human resources are what matters. That same logic applies to Wellness Programs.

2) Wellness providers will eventually consist of a few major players. Currently, wellness firms are popping up nearly every day to handle this outsourcing phenomenon. While the growth in local and regional players will continue for some time, eventually there will be consolidation similar to what the cellular telephone market experienced in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

3) Understand what is available via outsourcing. Such firms will offer Health Risk Appraisals, Biometric testing, onsite Fitness and Challenges, onsite coaching, online coaching and a variety of platforms that offer real-time programming via internet access.

These firms charge a monthly service fee or impose a "per life" rate for employees, dependents, and others, to host and maintain expensive software without the huge front-end investment in acquisition, development, implementation and maintenance fees. As a result, many old and new vendors are jumping on the wellness bandwagon. Some are going to "lead the way" in shaping the industry, while others are likely in "way over their heads."

Wellness firms meet the critical needs of companies needing to outsource and keep upfront costs to a minimum. The problem for most employers evaluating an array of wellness firms is their value, capabilities and their stability for the long term. Approximately 95% of firms go out of business in the first five years - a fact of business that has been around for decades.


As the number of wellness start-ups and even emerging companies that are retooling having faced the tough economic times of the past few years, it is important to select the right service provider or combination of vendors that suit your specific needs. Many would like you to let them handle all your wellness needs, flashing their "low-cost self-service" technology, but do they have all the ingredients you really need?


Unless their business model is airtight, many of these wellness providers may not provide everything you really need to be successful, some will be bought up by competitors, while others could even be out of business in the next one to four years.

The ones that survive will be the major providers of best-in-class solutions with the ability to update their software and technology every few years to assure their programs remain relevant to your new and emerging needs.

4) Technology will level the playing field. Technology and the Internet will continue to expand program capabilities with increased focus on wireless technology. Smart phones, tablets and apps will all play major roles in the successful wellness programs of the future.

The growth in technical advances continues to increase while the cost of technology decreases. What was unprofitable last year suddenly is very cost effective this year. We predict that it will be feasible to use fewer staff to handle wellness programming going forward, just as other forms of self-service technology have improved the self-management of benefits over the past several years - making is easier than ever for small and mid-size companies to implement comprehensive wellness programs!

We are not suggesting that employers handle the production of videos, communication materials and self-service/administration of plans. It is probably not cost effective. We are suggesting that management should demand that any additional investment in communications and systems have a quick return on their investment.


At the same time, the current state of the economy is requiring cutbacks in HR budgets and, in particular, employee benefits. Therefore, any additional expenditure for a wellness program must be scrutinized and must achieve a measurable Return on Investment (ROI).

5) Finding the right recipe for success. The reality is that wellness is best delivered, promoted, received and sustained in an environment where internal capabilities are blended with cost efficient outsourcing to maximize program engagement and ROI.


Even the largest of companies with vast resources are discovering that pieces of their program are best serviced by outsourcing key components like web-based platforms, individual education and coaching services that manage chronic conditions and promote healthy behavior change.

On the other hand, internal support is a key ingredient in the overall success of a program. Champions that know the company, its people and culture can be a valuable asset in promoting a new initiative and sustaining the life of the program. People like to deal with the people they know and trust, HR knows the benefits plans well than anybody else, so using internal resources to "raise awareness, answer questions and perform seasonal promotions" is a good thing.


Building challenges that get teams focused on overall goals to build excitement for the wellness program, along with the installation of appropriate incentives need to be part of the recipe. Administration of these components can be performed internally or outsourced depending on company capacity, group size and cultural need. Remember, the higher the participation level, the better the likelihood of improved outcomes that translates into program success and ROI for the company.

Conclusion

This article discusses the key components that employers should consider when implementing a comprehensive wellness program - one that goes beyond a collection of tools and resources that has sufficient teeth to get real results. Two perspectives are important in the decision process.


First in determining what functions can be handled with internal resources without taking the focus off day-to-day roles essential to production and profits, and second, which components can best be delivered externally via outsourcing with various platform and value added service providers must both be carefully considered.


Does the ROI justify outsourcing the wellness function(s) to specialized entities? Or does advanced technology help in wrapping an outcome-focused wellness program around the internal capabilities of the company? In the end, the authors believe that both approaches are essential and finding the right balance of internal efforts and external support will ultimately dictate the overall success of your wellness program.


Health care is in the midst of significant change and thanks to ever expanding technology, integration of wellness programming and its value in overall health care management is being rebuilt from the ground up. Where does your organization fit into this transformation?

About the authors:

Rob J. Thurston, President of HR Consulting Group, Inc. has been a national speaker and a noted author on HR consulting and systems development since 1981. He has implemented and designed some of the largest selling employee benefits software systems nationwide while part of an international brokerage firm, a national administration firm and while as consultant. Currently, he is working on the development of several advanced technology systems for both HR and employee benefits. You can contact Mr. Thurston @ hrcg@relia.net or by calling 801-765-4417.

Bart Sheeler is a career entrepreneur with 15 years experience in the health and wellness industry. He has authored numerous articles for trade publications and for the Corporate Wellness Specialist certification handbook "Engaging Wellness" released in 2012.

Mr. Sheeler was a co-founder of ActivHealth International, Inc. in 1998, negotiated the sale of its products and services to Nurtur Health, Inc. in 2010 and was instrumental in establishing an exclusive business partnership with Duke University's Center for Living. Mr. Sheeler can be reached at 513-823-1466 or bart@gofirst1.com.