Workplace wellness programs are on the rise. Spurred on by a combination of ACA incentives and soaring health insurances costs, companies are looking to wellness programs to improve the health — and productivity — of employees while also controlling healthcare spending. In fact, according to the RAND Health Workplace Wellness Programs Study, nearly 50 percent of U.S. businesses employing 50 or more people offer wellness programs.
The trend represents an important opportunity for healthcare organizations.
By partnering with businesses on these initiatives, hospitals and other healthcare providers gain several advantages: control groups of patient data to track, measure and analyze the effectiveness of various wellness programs, opportunities to positively impact population health within the community, and expanded reach and brand engagement with local consumers.
Wellness Programs Face Challenges
This year, employers plan to increase incentive budgets for wellness programs by 15 percent according to a study by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health. The top incentivized wellness interventions are related to the management of chronic disease, stress and weight. Yet, despite the popularity of wellness programs with employers, employees don’t seem as enamored with them.
The RAND Health study found that less than half of employees participate in the screenings and health assessments that are a typical starting point for workplace wellness programs. In addition, of those employees that did have a preliminary assessment, only one-fifth of them opted to participate in the intervention specified by the screening results.
In January, a Harvard Business Review article suggested that some workplace wellness programs rely too heavily on financial penalties, creating an atmosphere of resentment. To emphasize the point, the authors said corporate executives initiating wellness programs should ask themselves, “If you’re a general leading an army into battle, would you rather have troops with high morale or troops with low cholesterol?”
While not mutually exclusive, a workplace wellness program that generates ill will is less likely to have the desired impact.
When c2b solutions ran its national healthcare consumer study in 2013, respondents were asked what they felt about incentives and penalties offered by health insurance plans for healthy/unhealthy behaviors. Not surprisingly, more consumers were in favor of financial incentives than of penalties.
However, certain psychographic segments were statistically more likely (95% confidence) to favor incentives and penalties than were other segments, indicating a targeted offering would be more effective, and employers need to offer different propositions to trigger employee participation.
c2b solutions’ next national study, fielding in January 2015, will explore the topic of incentives and penalties to an even greater degree, identifying specific catalysts by psychographic, demographic and socioeconomic segments.
Developing Programs that Work
With the right approach, workplace wellness programs can be effective. In fact, four years earlier, Harvard Business Review published an article touting the financial advantages being realized through such programs. Citing Johnson & Johnson wellness initiatives in place since the mid-1990s, the article noted:
- The number of employees who smoke dropped by more than 66 percent.
- The number of employees who suffer from hypertension or are physically inactive dropped by more than 50 percent.
- For every dollar spent on wellness programs between 2002 and 2008, Johnson & Johnson reaped a benefit of $2.71.
What, then, is the difference between programs that flourish and those that fizzle? The most successful workplace wellness programs, including Johnson & Johnson’s, share some similarities.
- Communication is critical. As the Harvard Business Review noted, “Wellness is not just a mission — it’s a message. How you deliver it can make all the difference.” Expecting every employee to respond to wellness programs — regardless of whether it is a carrot or a stick approach — is short sighted.
- Wellness starts in the C-suite. Leaders throughout the organization — from top executives to middle managers to team captains — need to actively, and visibly, participate in workplace wellness initiatives so that everyone sees that programs are part of a health-focused culture, not a cost-containment plan.
- Wellness programs need part of a company’s “DNA.” Building it into the corporate identity may be a natural fit for some organizations, but for others it is an evolutionary change which takes time and patience.
- Wellness programs need to be well-planned and well-executed. If programs are going to be well-liked, they must provide personalized experiences — not one-size-fits-all solutions — to match employee abilities with program expectations.
- Wellness requires education. From inviting local healthcare providers to host “lunch and learn” sessions or provide flu shots to building workout facilities or walking paths, wellness programs need to be integrated into the workplace to encourage participation.
- Collaboration is key. Workplace wellness programs can benefit from collaborating with hospitals and other healthcare providers. It lends legitimacy to the initiatives and offers employees additional resources to help them along their wellness journey.
As workplace wellness programs continue to gain ground, hospitals and other healthcare providers can help employers analyze the patient data to develop meaningful initiatives, but employers will also need deeper insights into what will motivate the desired behaviors.
The consumer insights and proprietary psychographic segmentation model developed by c2b solutions can help companies increase participation— in one case driving a 70 percent involvement in a 12 week metabolic syndrome intervention program among eligible employees. To learn more, read our past article on the metabolic syndrome intervention, download our white paper on psychographic segmentation or contact c2b solutions today.