Employee Wellness

Employee Wellness

Getting Workers Involved

Before I left the corporate world and struck out on my own, I worked at a large multi-billion dollar financial services firm. Each month, a 6-page wellness newsletter would be dropped off on my desk detailing how to live a healthier life. I dutifully read the bits I found interesting and then tossed it in the circular file cabinet. I am not knocking the newsletters; they generally contained good information and, if you followed their advice, they would probably lead you to a much healthier life. However, with skyrocketing health care costs and two-thirds of the American workforce overweight, exactly how effective is a monthly flyer?

You really can't blame the Human Resource departments who generally administer wellness programs for the lack of options. The whole wellness phenomenon is something relatively new in the workplace. It can partially be attributed to the rise in the cost of insurance which will average $9,312 per employee according to a recent Towers Perrin study. It can also be attributed to a dramatic rise in obesity and lack of physical activity; both a direct offshoot of the modern sedentary, office worker. With people spending the majority of their waking hours either working or commuting, it leaves very little time for healthy activities.

A study by the American Institute for Preventative Medicine found that 62 percent of companies surveyed offer some form of wellness program; however, a recent study by Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America found that only 35 percent of employees believe that they have access to a wellness program and, of those who do, only 50 percent have participated in the offering. Even more troubling is that half of those who do participate quickly lose interest. An additional study by webMD looked at the effectiveness of these programs. It found that as participation level increased, the effectiveness of these programs increased dramatically: from a cost-benefit ratio of 2:1 for sparsely-used programs up to almost 20:1 for high-participation programs.

So now the big question for the employee wellness administrator is: how do I get my employees to participate and stay interested in my program? In The Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America study, 68 percent of employees suggested cash, gifts and additional vacation days as an effective motivator. This can be as simple as offering employees $100 to take a health screening or be more in-depth by offering employees an incentive to reach a certain level of fitness and offering them recurring incentives to maintain that level. An alternative version of this method allows the company to choose a high deductible health care plan and then reimburses workers who meet target health measures and complete health and wellness activities.

Besides using financial incentives, you can structure the wellness program itself to provide motivation by making it fun and rewarding. A popular program feature such as a fitness challenge can promote your wellness program and also be self-motivating. An employee wellness challenge provides a medium for workers to improve their health while participating in friendly competition. These challenges are typically modeled after the President's Challenge from the President's Council on Physical Fitness where daily activity is logged, or based on the popular The Biggest Loser TV show where competition is based on percent of weight loss.

A good idea is to combine the challenges so that people who do not need to lose weight can also participate and become healthier. A prominent feature at wellness4one.com allows wellness administrators to build a program that challenges users on losing the most weight, body fat and / or most exercise time accumulated. However the challenge is constructed, it provides reinforcing motivation to continue trying to get healthier after the first few months pass by and the easiest progress has been realized.

The one aspect that every study agrees on is that corporate wellness programs are effective. Even if you do a poor job at promoting your program, you should still expect a return on investment of two to one or better. With this in mind, there is no reason why every workplace does not implement some form of wellness program. Promoting the program and getting employees involved is the next obstacle. This is especially true when you consider that the higher the program participation rate, the higher the ROI. Monetary and benefit incentives can catch employee attention and help them find motivation where it might otherwise be lacking. Adding multi-faceted fitness challenges in your wellness program can help with program adherence even without other incentives. While developing a wellness program that fits your workplace and getting employees involved may not be a simple task, it is well worth the effort.