The decision to start an employee wellness program requires a substantial commitment of both time and resources. Programs that are started for the right reasons can transform the worksite culture and the very lives of employees and their families. There are a few factors that can predict which programs will thrive and which ones were will fail. Here is a list of questions (predictors) that can be used to help companies make the right choice on whether or not to start a wellness program.

1. Why do you want to start a wellness program?

We ask this question with every client that is considering WellSteps as their wellness vendor. About 85% of the time employers say that the reason they are wanting to do wellness is to improve the health of their employees and to reduce employee-related expenses. The other 15% of the time employers want to do wellness because they feel it is the right thing to do for their employees. They want their worksite to be an enjoyable and rewarding place to work where the employees are healthy, happy, and productive.

Both of these are valid reasons to do wellness, but they will require a different type of wellness program. If the goal is to improve employee health and reduce employee related expenses then the program must be focused on helping employees adopt and maintain healthy behaviors. These types of programs require a comprehensive approach to helping employees have healthy lifestyles. If the goal is just to foster a an enjoyable and rewarding work environment then the wellness program may not need to be so focused on behavior. It could be focused more on having fun.

2. How will you know if your wellness efforts are successful?

There is another way to ask this question. If you start a wellness program today, how would your worksite be different three years from now? What would success look like? How do you plan to quantify that success? What measures will you use? Before you start a wellness program sit down with your management team and answered these questions. If you’re having a hard time answering them perhaps your organization is not ready for a wellness program. If you can answer them, use your answers to help you select a wellness vendor that can provide you data on how your program is improving employee health behaviors, lowering health risks, and reducing employee related expenses. Remember, to successfully measure the impact of your wellness program you need to gather the right data at the beginning and across time.

The WellSteps performance guarantee is used by many organizations as a measure of program success. They refer to it before they begin a wellness program. It includes:

Year 1. At the end of year one, program participation will exceed 50% of all eligible participants.

Year 2.  At the end of year two, program participants will demonstrate a minimum improvement in health behaviors or health risks of no less than 7% For example, at the end of year two, program participants will be 7% more physically active than when they started the program.

Year 3. At the end of year three,  program participants will have fewer medical expenditures than non-participants. The savings will total at least 150% of the cost to deliver the program.

3. What is the nature of your workforce?

A wellness program for the employees of a single location will look and feel very different from wellness program for employees spread out over multiple locations, time zones, and languages. Geographic location is just one thing to consider when starting wellness program. The type of work you perform is also important to consider. Retail establishments, for example, can sometimes have very high rates of employee turnover.

It doesn’t make much sense to spend time and money on a wellness program for employees who will not be working there in six months. These same retail establishments also have employees who are in management positions where the turnover rate is much lower. Rather than offer a full wellness program to your high turnover employees, some worksites will offer a reduced version of wellness to them while offering a comprehensive solution to their full time, benefited employees. The same thing is true for worksites that have seasonal or temporary workers. In general, wellness programs are easier to start and administer when you have employees who are already receiving other workplace benefits.

4. Who will be offered your program?

Do you want to provide your wellness program for all employees or just those who are benefited? What about spouses/significant others and dependents? If you are providing health insurance for your employees you are paying for the medical expenses of dependents as well. If the goal of your wellness program is to reduce healthcare expenditures than it only makes sense that you extend some or all of your wellness offerings to your employees significant others. After all, you are paying for their health; why not help them avoid chronic diseases? To successfully get individuals to adopt and maintain healthy behaviors it is important to have support from others. For this reason alone, our WellSteps wellness solutions are made available to spouses at no additional cost. Successful behavior change requires support from others.

5. Do you have strong leadership support to start a wellness program?

This is perhaps one of the most important questions to ask. Many worksites initiate a wellness program with limited leadership support. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a limitation on the effectiveness that the program will have. Those worksites that have strong leadership support also have a functioning, effective wellness committees that help guide and direct the wellness program. The wellness committees give ownership of the program to the employees themselves. When you have a wellness committee your employees feel like the program is theirs and not something that management is trying to do to them.

Companies with strong leadership support have leaders who participate in the program in very visible ways. They participate in campaigns, they participate in team challenges, they talk about the wellness program, they are involved in the evaluation and reports of the program and they personally believe in the benefits of having a healthy lifestyle. Even if a worksite doesn’t have strong leadership support in the beginning there are steps you can take to improve leadership support. In this previous blog post I have provided the complete guide for gaining leadership support. It contains everything you need to get your leadership to support your wellness program.

Every employee benefit was started by company leadership at some point. The decision to start employee benefit is a big one because employee benefits are easy to provide but difficult, if not impossible, to remove. Strong leadership support is always necessary before offering an employee benefit. If you are going to start a wellness program you need to be committed to a long-term approach to improving employee health. Treat the decision just like you would any other benefits offering.

6. Do you want to go it alone or use professionals?

Senior leaders can also decide whether or not your organization will start a wellness program internally with your own employees or bring in a wellness vendor. This is about the age-old question:should you build it or should you buy it? There are pros and cons of going it alone.

 

Go It Alone
Pros Get to use your own staff.
Don’t have to hire a vendor.
Many worksites have someone who would like to help with wellness.
Get complete control over every aspect of the program.
Cons Most often staff will be asked to do wellness in addition to their regular job.  Without dedicated support,  the program will fail.
Onsite staff will be expected to be behavior change experts. Staff will need training and certifications.
Wellness vendors know what it takes to have a successful program; onsite staffing will have to learn by trial and error.
Are responsible for all aspects of the program including building a web platform.
Wellness programs run by internal company staff have low participation rates and struggle to keep the program going long-term.
Hiring a vendor may be cheaper than building your own program because you’ll have to build it from scratch.

7. Do you have a budget to start an employee wellness program?

A typical effective wellness program can cost an average of $150 per employee per year. There is tremendous variability in this cost depending upon the wellness programming you offer. The WellSteps wellness solution costs far less than $150.  Depending upon the number of employees, the cost per year can range from $30-$100 per person per year. Other wellness programs might offer biometric screening or health coaching which by themselves can exceed $150 per employee per year without even offering any type of incentive.

If your worksite is fully insured, your insurance carrier may have some financial assistance for your wellness program. It doesn’t hurt to ask. If you are self-insured there are ways to work with your third-party administrator and your healthcare consultants to tweak your plan design in a way that frees up money for wellness. Tell your insurance company or your claims administrator that you are thinking about doing a wellness program and ask them for help.

They may even have some limited wellness offerings that you can use for free. These are not comprehensive wellness programs and they are unlikely to help you reach your program objectives but they can be part of a larger, more effective wellness offering. If your goal is to improve employee health and reduce employee related expenses you are going to need a wellness program that is clinically proven to do just that.

8. Do you want wellness to be company perk or a benefit?

Benefits like health, dental, vision, life, and disability insurance are non-wage compensations on top of your wage or salary. They are powerful tools employers can use to recruit and retain employees.  They require long-term commitments from leadership and they are strategic. Perks on the other hand like vacation time, flexible work schedules, free food, or a company car are discretionary; they are extras that can be shared with and removed from employees with little effort.

Perks are changing and transient while benefits tend to persist.  Depending on how a wellness program is perceived it can be a benefit or a perk.  If you want a wellness program that is a perk, you don’t need to worry about reaching any goals or producing positive outcomes.  If fact, if wellness is to be a perk, you can do pretty much anything you want under the guise of wellness.  If, however, you want wellness to be a benefit, be prepared to support the program for many years.  Commit to helping all employees participate and reward them for doing so.  When wellness is a benefit it has a purpose and strategy behind it.  Here are a couple examples of wellness offered as a perk and wellness offered as a benefit.

Wellness as a Perk Wellness as a Benefit
Wearable Fitness Tracker Buy and hand out fitness trackers to your employees Provide incentives for those who demonstrate regular physical activity, Don’t buy and give them away, have employees bring their own, or offer a discount.  Use a wellness platform that will sync with the devices for easy data collection. Reward employees who are active or use their devices in team-based exercise competitions.
Healthy eating Hand out restaurant gift cards Work with your cafeteria manager or vending machine vendor and offer price discounts for healthy foods. Complete the Stop and Go Fast Food Nutrition Guide campaign and teach employees how to eat out and eat healthy.
Fitness Pay for gym membership Pay for gym membership but use gym participation data to reward employees who exercise regularly.  Offer a health insurance premium discount to those who are regularly active.

9. Are you willing to change your worksite culture?

The reason obesity and diabetes prevalence are at record levels is because we all live and work in a culture and environment that makes it difficult to eat healthy foods and exercise regularly. This is especially true for worksites.  Most people spend a majority of their waking hours at work.  The worksite culture and environment has a direct impact on employee health.  Unhealthy food options, lack of opportunities to be physically active, and stress all contribute to poor employee health.

Worksites that are sincerely interested in improving employee health and reducing employee-related expenses must make efforts to improve the culture and environment at work.  Without worksite culture change it is difficult for employees to maintain healthy behaviors.  If your worksite is not willing to start making small improvement in your worksite culture and environment, your wellness efforts may fail.

To learn more about the kinds of changes worksites can make take the Free Checklist to Change.  This simple tool will give you lots of different ideas and strategies you can use to create a health promoting culture work.

10. Can you live with the consequences if you don’t begin an employee wellness program?

You would not be reading this blog if you were not considering starting a wellness program. This takes us back to the first question, “Why do you want to start a wellness program?” Is poor employee health an issue at your worksite? Are you experiencing dramatic and unrelenting increases in employee medical and pharmaceutical costs? Are your competitors offering their employees a wellness program? Is there stiff competition in trying to hire the best employees? Wellness programs used to be a benefit of only the largest corporations, but today most worksites offer some form of wellness to their employees. Our obesity trends and healthcare cost trends will only continue to increase in the future. If poor employee health and employee related expenses are a problem now it is almost certain that these will be worse in the future.

 

So What?

If you have answered these questions and still believe that a wellness program would be right for your organization. Here is a white paper that describes what can happen after three years of wellness. The worksite in this white paper is the Boise School District. They carefully considered these 10 questions before they decided to start the WellSteps Wellness Solution. After three years they have exceeded every goal that they had originally established for their program. This is an example of how a wellness program can transform a worksite if you start by asking the right questions.

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About The Author

Dr. Steve Aldana

Dr. Aldana is the CEO of Wellsteps, a worksite wellness solution that leads the nation in wellness program deployment and engagement. Dr. Aldana authored over 75 scientific papers and 7 books on health risk management, healthy living, and health promotion programs. He has given over 350 keynote speeches across the U.S. on the ability of good nutrition and regular exercise to prevent, arrest, and reverse many chronic diseases. Email him at: steve@wellsteps.com

1 Comment

  1. Nice article– Do you attend/ belong to “Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine”– promotes Wellness & Treatments thru Nutrition (exercise a given)– via Latest Research????

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