Workplace Wellness: One Size Fits Few

A new International Foundation study, A Closer Look: Workplace Wellness Outcomes, offers hints for success by breaking down the types of wellness program designs organizations are using, including incentive programs, and the outcomes they have experienced. The study concludes by noting wellness programs are not one size fits all—outcomes can depend on the program approach taken, strategies used and initiatives offered; the type of organization; and what is being measured (participation, ROI, value of investment (VOI), culture, etc.).

Organizations should seek worker input and determine prior to adoption whether initiatives—particularly those with insurance-based incentive programs—are a good fit with their culture. Organizations should be sure to stay on top of the latest trends in workplace wellness—including what organizations with successful programs are doing differently—to increase their odds of success. Hints from successful programs in the study include:

  • Approach: Organizations with positive wellness ROI are slightly more likely to offer wellness to control/reduce health costs, while those with positive wellness VOI and great workplace cultures are more likely to offer wellness to invest in/increase worker health and engagement.
  • Commitment: Organizations with positive wellness ROI and VOI are more likely to have offered wellness initiatives for a longer time than average and to have budgets devoted to wellness. However, when it comes to VOI, program tenure doesn’t appear to matter as much—VOI results may be noticeable more quickly after implementation. Additionally, organizations with great workplace cultures are no more likely than their peers to have wellness budgets or to have had programs in place for longer periods of time. Participation data actually revealed how less-tenured programs have higher participation rates in some initiatives, suggesting it may be a good idea to commit to keeping programs fresh.
  • Initiatives: Organizations with positive wellness ROI are providing more screening, treatment, fitness and nutrition initiatives than other organizations, but not necessarily more of other initiatives related to total well-being (e.g., mental, community, social and occupational health). On the other hand, organizations with great workplace cultures tend to be providing more total well-being initiatives, but not more screenings and treatment initiatives than average. Organizations with positive wellness VOI tend to provide more of all types of initiatives.
  • Incentives and targeting: Organizations with positive wellness ROI and VOI are more likely to have prepared general pictures of their health plan status, offer incentives and insurance-based incentive programs, and target programs and communication based on worker health risks. Organizations with great workplace cultures, however, were not any more likely to be taking these actions.
  • Communication, feedback and inclusion: A few common themes among organizations with positive ROI, VOI and great workplace cultures include a higher level of wellness communication (including leadership communicating support for wellness initiatives) and more willingness to seek worker input on initiatives and to include spouses and families.

A Closer Look: Workplace Wellness Outcomes analyzes survey data from 372 U.S. organizations of a variety of sizes, industries and regions. Download to view full results.

Neil Mrkvicka
Senior Research Analyst at the International Foundation

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