Why do many employers offer health risk assessments (HRAs) to their workers? Are they providing an opportunity to uncover unknown, life-threatening health risks such as diabetes or high blood pressure?  Or are they hoping to encourage healthy living by pushing workers to face the scale and rising cholesterol numbers, accompanied by a lecture?

In a recent International Foundation member webcast, Employee Wellness Challenges: Keeping Them Well, Keeping You Compliant, Debra Wein of Wellness Workdays suggests that as a philosophy, “Wellness should be something we do for our employees, not to them.” Although an employer’s intent may be to provide the gift of wellness, it is often not the perception.

Does Your Workplace Wellness Program Motivate or Aggravate?

The International Foundation Workplace Wellness Trends: 2017 Survey Results tell us that 75% of employers offer wellness programs to improve overall worker health and well-being. Yet according to the same survey, 38.8% of respondents indicate that it is difficult for their workers to find enough time to participate, and 23.8% suggest there is a lack of interest by workers.

[Free Member Webcast—The Results Are In: Workplace Wellness Trends]

According to Wein, when designing a wellness program for your organization, it is key to motivate the entire employee population.  “It is just as important to keep the healthy employees healthy as it is to help high-risk employees manage their risk levels. Focus on overall wellness and long-term behavior change rather than quick fixes.”

Wein described the distinguishing characteristics of an effective population health management program:

  • Involve key stakeholders—When choosing which components to include in your wellness programs, get input from those in the organization who can help increase employee engagement. The goal is to appeal to the entire employee population—something for everybody!
  • Alignment—Tailor your program to your employee size, population, budget and culture. Set up your employees to succeed. (If you are promoting walking, provide your employees with access to a walking trail, a walking work station, etc.).
  • Specific goals—Start with small, defined, achievable goals such as “increasing HRA participation by xx percent in 2017.”
  • Realistic outcome expectations—You don’t want to force it. Start small and build. Make changes as needed.
  • Incentives to achieve participation and engagement goals—Give frequent incentives your employees want to receive. Be creative! Incentives don’t always have to break the bank (i.e., dress-down days, afternoon breaks, etc.)
  • Including leadership—Encourage visible participation from senior management. Report results back to them. Personally ask leadership and middle management to support employee engagement.
  • Data collection—Determine a process for data collection, analysis and evaluation. Decide what metrics that will be used to define success.
  • Communications—Tailor your message to your mission. Use multiple platforms to reach your workforce. Communicate progress and success to employees and key stakeholders. Keep it short!

Well-designed wellness programs have proven to be worthwhile. According to Wein, “Studies show that U.S. employers spend 200% to 300% more on the indirect costs of health care in the form of absenteeism, sick days and lower productivity than they do on actual health care payments.”

[Related: Workplace Wellness online learning course]

The International Foundation Workplace Wellness Trends survey results support that wellness programs are having a positive impact on employers’ indirect healthcare costs. Of those tracking their wellness efforts, the percentage of respondents reporting wellness having a positive impact follow:

  • Absenteeism – 52.6%
  • Productivity – 66.2%

Wein shared the benefits to employees when an organized, employer-sponsored program is designed to support employees adopting and sustaining healthy behaviors:

  • Reduced health risks
  • Improved quality of life
  • Enhanced personal effectiveness

Employers will also benefit from a wellness program that works to engage the entire worker population through moderated health care costs, improved recruitment and retention, enhanced productivity and overall happier, healthier workers..

Teri Dougherty
Research Analyst at the International Foundation


Teri Dougherty, CEBS

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