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Follow the Leader

Karen L. Andalman

Business people lining up behind a leader

Follow the Leader

In the quest for creating a culture of wellness in the workplace, it is imperative that senior level management take the lead. From an early age, we are conditioned to follow the positive examples set by our parents, older siblings and teachers. It is very difficult to get employees to “buy into” a wellness program if senior management isn’t also participating and showing improvement in their personal goals.

How can you expect employees to participate in a program when management doesn’t also participate? Just writing checks for screenings and incentives does not exhibit the type of commitment and example of leadership that employees expect. Management needs to be visible during the kick-off meetings. Subsequent reminders and program updates should be sent from the emails of senior management. If there are team challenges and competitions, there should at last one manager on each team. Management needs to “walk the walk” instead of just “talking the talk”!

The trend today is for employers to implement corporate wellness initiates as a means to create a culture of wellness. Healthier employees are happier and more productive. Absenteeism declines. Customer service becomes a positive experience as stress levels become manageable.

The program has to be meaningful to the employees. The healthier lifestyle must transcend from the workplace to the home. Including spouses, if economically feasible, will make the goal a “joint” effort.

  • Barry Griswell, chairman and CEO of the Principle Financial Group, implemented a wellness program for his employees. Mr. Griswell advocated and participated in the company wellness program. In the first year, he personally lost 50 pounds, lowered his cholesterol from 204 to 182, his triglycerides went from 130 down to 61 and he lowered his LDL (bad cholesterol) and increased his HDL (good cholesterol). Mr. Griswell made exercise a daily routine and changed his eating habits.

When asked his opinions about convincing CEOs that investing in an employee health and wellness program is the right thing to do, Mr. Griswell stated, “I think tenacity and persistence go a long way. Take a chance. Go out on a limb and be assertive, calling to the attention of senior management the need for a health promotion program. Keep at it. We know that the message of health and wellness resonates with people at different times in their lives, so the key is to be there when the time is right. You never know when that time is going to be, so you have to be persistent.”

Reward employees that meet wellness goals, we are all children at heart. There is nothing more exciting than receiving presents or rewards for positive behaviors. This philosophy transcends into the arena of corporate wellness programs. People on their own are not necessarily motivated to make the changes that will improve their health. A wellness program that is well designed with appropriate incentives will increase employee participation. Increased participation should result in better outcomes; stabilize and lower claims cost.

Incentives can be used to encourage employees to participate in biometric screenings, health risk assessments, wellness coaching and participate in company sponsored challenges and contests. “If done correctly, a wellness program and wellness incentive program demonstrates that the company values them and is willing to work with them to improve their health. It can have a positive effect on morale and employee satisfaction, which is linked to customer satisfaction. If employees are engaged and satisfied, they take better care of their customers. People want to work for companies that are interested in their health.” This is from David Peer of Hinda Incentives in Chicago.

There are several important facts to remember when designing an incentive program:

  • Incentive programs designed to lower claim costs should use incentives that will change behavior.
  • Use specific incentives to focus on specific behaviors.
  • Stage your rewards for the entire process. Incentives must be ongoing to stimulate engagement.
  • Incentives should be used to get employees to participate in the program initially; but then incentives should shift to reflect improvement in health.
  • Incentives should be of a broad spectrum, as individuals are motivated by rewards that are meaningful to them. Premium discounts are the most popular incentive we see. Gift cards and point-based catalogs have wide appeal, as well.

The other key component in keeping up the momentum is Wellness Coaching. Ongoing calls from the Wellness Coach will let the participants know that there is always someone advocating for them. It keeps them “on track” and provides accountability. Most importantly, if incentives are tied to behavior changes, the Wellness Coach can assist with setting achievable goals. The Wellness Coach can also help the employees overcome barriers to evolving to a healthier lifestyle.

The ultimate goal of any corporate wellness program is to reduce health care spending and lower claim costs. The bigger picture is creating a healthier employee population.

Remember the old adage “do on to others, as you would like them to do on to you.” In this case, you can’t sponsor and advocate for a wellness program if you (Manager) are not doing it yourself! “Follow the leader “really applies when striving for a healthier employee population.

About the Author

Karen L. AndalmanKaren L. Andalman C.W.C. is the President and Founder of WellChoice, Inc., established in 1992, a leader in Corporate Wellness Coaching, Risk Management and Wellness Incentive Programs, Biometric Screening Events, Tobacco Cessation Programs, Disease Management, On-Site/Near-Site Clinic Wellness Programs, Case Management  and Utilization Management  Programs.

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