07/02/2013 06:17 pm ET Updated Sep 01, 2013

The National Employee Wellness Month Wrap-Up

I was recently on a panel presentation to a local group of HR Executives in Arizona. The topic was the future of employer-sponsored healthcare, healthcare reform and wellness plans. My portion included talking about common traits that organizations possessed that helped make their wellness programs successful. As we wrap up June, which also happens to be National Employee Wellness Month , of which WorldatWork is a proud sponsor, I thought I'd share those traits with you so you could determine whether your organizations share these traits as well. I hope you find them helpful as many of you move closer to finalizing next year's health and wellness programs and you begin planning for your annual enrollment periods.

Leadership Support -- this sounds like a no-brainer, but having leadership support can be the catalyst to help grow an organization-wide culture of health. Without their support, chances of seeing a measurable return may be in jeopardy. And it appears that having a culture of health is a significant factor of success. Want to see where your culture may be on this topic? Check out WELCOA and National Business Group on Health (NBGH) for resources & tools.

Have a strategy in place. WorldatWork's Total Rewards and Well-Being survey wanted to know if organizations had a wellness strategy in place, because without one how do you know where you are going. 54 percent of the respondents indeed did have a strategy, with 44 percent having one in place for 3 or more years. 38 percent had one in place between 1-3 years. Part of that strategy includes defining what your wellness objectives are. According to the same WorldatWork survey the following were the most prevalent objectives. And note, that although we often hear that lowering healthcare costs is the number one reason for having a wellness program, these respondents put that as third.
  • Improve employee health - 85 percent
  • Perceived value to employees - 79 percent
  • Reduce medical costs - 77 percent
  • Increase productivity - 73 percent
  • Increase employee engagement - 72 percent
  • Lower absenteeism - 64 percent
Key metrics. Another important trait is that organizations define what metrics they are looking for and find a way to measure it. This also happens to be where organizations struggle the most when trying to find those proverbial healthcare cost savings. It's important to select appropriate metrics, both short-term and long-term. Right now organizations are measuring in the following areas:
  • Participation - 58 percent
  • Health-care costs - 39 percent
  • Satisfaction surveys - 34 percent
  • Absenteeism - 21 percent
  • Productivity - 8 percent
Collect meaningful data. In order to really see an ROI on your wellness plans, you must be able to get your hands on the appropriate data. This enables you to clearly see what is going on within your demographics, what you want to affect through program design and then utilize this data for the metrics you are looking for. But the data you are looking for may not be that easy to come by. It may not be provided to you the way YOU want it. Standard reporting from your vendors and providers may not meet your needs and/or there is not enough of it. There is also the issue of an appropriate technical infrastructure to store and analyze the data. Many companies are starting to look into data warehouses. There are data warehouse designed specifically for healthcare data. Some of the larger more established vendors have the ability to benchmark against other groups since they have so much data. You want to gather as much as you can (e.g., medical RX, dental, vision, onsite clinic stats, stats from disease management), then ask a lot of questions to get to what you need to make informed decisions.

Provide appropriate incentives. In the early stages as organizations are attempting to get individuals to participate, incentives can be nominal such as gift cards, merchandise, etc. According to Lockton Benefit Group, you need at least $100 to get 75 percent to participate and typically $120 for HRAs and $130 for biometric screenings. But as your goal is to affect some form of behavioral change, your incentives should be tied more closely to achieving those results as employees move to the action stage of change where they are making modifications to their lifestyles. The debate is still on whether the carrot or the stick approach should be utilized. The WorldatWork survey respondents indicated that the two biggest areas that induced penalties were for smoking cessation at 11 percent and incentives at 9 percent.

Align wellness program with healthcare plan design. You can maximize efficiency and effectiveness of each of the plans this way. Ensure that preventive care is provided at no cost to employees and dependents, evaluate vendor performance guarantees, quality and cost. Consolidate vendors and reduce redundancies.

Understand the waiting game. Finally and maybe one of the most important for long-term success, is to understand that it may take two-five years before you see measurable results. Understanding this may be easier said than done. As with any behavioral modification, we as practitioners must understand that most of all. Be well!