A Win-Win

Linking wellness programs with recognition and incentives can boost employee engagement as well as drive benefits costs down.

By Cord Himelstein

As companies increase their focus on employee health and wellness programs as a way to help minimize healthcare costs and boost employee engagement, wellness initiatives are being closely tied to workplace recognition programs. Linking wellness initiatives to an achievement-based employee recognition platform helps build employees’ personal motivation, increase employee engagement, and drive health and wellness program participation.

Nearly 90 percent of companies offer wellness incentives to employees who participate in company- sponsored initiatives, finds a survey from Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health. On average, employers are offering $521 in annual incentives per employee, compared to just $260 in 2009. This can include rewarding employees with gift cards or reimbursement for gym memberships if they actively participate in wellness classes, cholesterol and blood pressure screenings, specific exercise regimens, weigh-in challenges, 5K races, and more.

Why the added interest in health and wellness incentives? Rewarding employees for making smart choices about their health and well-being is a small investment that can yield big dividends to the individual and the organization as a whole. Not only does it drive healthcare costs down, it leads to a happier and healthier workforce, which means higher engagement, performance, and profitability, as well as lower turnover. Healthier employees take fewer sick days, and often are better equipped to aid company growth.

By linking wellness initiatives with employee recognition programs that offer rewards related
to preventive health, lifestyle choices, and specific challenges and contests, companies can motivate employees and help them reach their personal goals.

HealthSouth Corporation, the nation’s largest owner and operator of inpatient rehabilitation hospitals, integrates wellness initiatives with their Step Up to Excellence employee recognition program. HealthSouth employees are rewarded for a variety of wellness milestones, including participation in health screenings, as well as attending healthy nutrition seminars, among other initiatives.

The organization tied specific spring health initiatives to May’s national theme of Employee Health and Fitness Month as well as Stroke Month. HealthSouth hosted various presentations by health experts and stroke survivors. Employees also had the opportunity to participate in a no-cost basic health screening to know their numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.). All activities offered the chance to earn Step Up To Excellence points that could be redeemed later through an online gallery of merchandise, experiences and travel packages, theater tickets, sporting event tickets, spa packages, and more.

HealthSouth’s managers can also recognize and reward employees’ health initiative participation via emails that link back to the central Step Up to Excellence web portal or by handing out physical recognition cards. As there is a significant HealthSouth employee population without email, the physical cards have been key to initiating further participation. Each includes a unique serial number, so that the HR department can track all recognition activity. The cards also help boost manager-to-employee engagement, as managers are encouraged to provide employees with positive feedback, celebrating their achievements.

At HealthSouth, the overall recognition program is helping drive key behaviors that contribute to a positive patient experience, building a more engaged workforce, and promoting healthier lifestyles and a more productive workplace. By combining recognition and wellness efforts, organizations like HealthSouth can maximize employee engagement, leading to a healthy and engaged staff and better business outcomes.

Preventive Health Management
Like HealthSouth, many companies offer rewards and incentives for employees that participate in routine health screenings, physicals, health risk appraisals, and more. Flu shot programs have become extremely popular, as employees sick with the flu miss an average of nearly three days of work per season, meaning decreased productivity and more disruptions in the workplace.

In fact, a Center for Disease Control study found that vaccinations can reduce medical costs and indirect costs from lost work productivity. Also, vaccinations have shown to reduce the number of healthcare provider visits by up to 44 percent, reduce the number of lost workdays by up to 45 percent, and reduce the number of days working with reduced effectiveness by up to
28 percent. Ultimately, it is in the best interest of the workplace and its employees to encourage workers to take control of their health and maintain regular check- ups and preventive care.

Covenant Health, a member of the St. Joseph Health System and the largest healthcare system in the West Texas and Eastern New Mexico regions, has linked its Discover Wellness initiatives to its recognition program to help meet its goal of a zero percent increase in healthcare claims. Giving employees opportunities to earn recognition points for preventative healthcare initiatives such as wellness screenings, weight-loss challenges, and others, has been fruitful in growing participation in the Discover Wellness program.

Lifestyle Management
Helping employees make smart and healthy lifestyle choices has many benefits to the organization as well as the individual. Whether supporting employees’ decisions to exercise, lose weight, quit smoking, or relieve stress, many companies are providing informational resources, ways to cope, and group support for issues ranging from nicotine dependence to depression.

Achievement-based programs can encourage tobacco users to quit and reduce employee exposure to second-hand smoke. Smoke-free workplace policies and decreasing the number of employees who use tobacco can also help minimize tobacco use among employees and even encourage healthier habits among employees’ families.

Wellness Challenges and Contests
Participating in workplace competitions, such as tracking eating habits or the amount of steps taken in a day, is a good way to offer employees extra support, motivation, and camaraderie, helping them maintain a healthy diet and good exercise regimen.

Through employee weight loss challenges—in sync with NBC’s hit show, The Biggest Loser—employers can offer incentives to all employees who participate and extra points for those who have exercised the most or lost the most weight during a specific time period. Some companies are even tracking the number of steps walked or biked via wearable activity tracker devices. The competition element—not to mention the ability to earn points and incentives—can help increase motivation levels and keep employees enthused about the program.

For winners of such challenges, it is important to hold a ceremony to recognize their efforts. Whether it is praise for daily accomplishments or a larger celebration for meeting a specific goal, the way an organization recognizes its employees is crucial to its success.

Today, recognition programs can help create a positive work environment and strong company culture, motivate high performance, reinforce desired behaviors, increase morale, support organizational values, and reduce turnover. Companies with high levels of employee engagement report an average of 12 percent higher profitability and twice the annual net income of companies that lag behind on engagement. Whether employees are maintaining a healthy lifestyle or dealing with a new or current health issue, employers can improve employee productivity, retention, health and morale, while lowering health-related costs by offering well-rounded wellness programs.

Cord Himelstein is vice president of marketing for Michael C. Fina.

 

BOX: Rewarding Wellness

Three easy, cost-effective ways to link rewards with wellness programs:
1. Incentivize participation in health screenings. Offer employees the opportunity to know their numbers with onsite blood pressure and cholesterol testing.
2. Enlist achievement-based programs to encourage tobacco cessation. Tracking and rewarding employees will help them be honest with their efforts.
3. Build an internal weight-loss competition. A little healthy competition never hurt anyone and is likely to encourage employees to stick to their goals.

Posted February 9, 2015 in Performance Management & Rewards

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