BenefitsContributorsEmployee Engagement

When Wellness Programs Fail

Beware claims that one size fits all.

By Ryan L. Turnbull
Employer-sponsored wellness programs have seen a resurgence in recent years, a trend that is expected to continue in an effort to curb escalating healthcare premiums. Unfortunately, far too many wellness programs fail to achieve the desired employee participation and return on investment (ROI). Why?
Let’s be realistic. Typical employees will not change their lifestyles simply because they have access to a website where they can navigate wellness-related educational material and track their daily steps. That is not to say that these types of programs do not have their place. They do—10 to 15 percent of employees will embrace any single wellness program component if complemented by other customized facets of a well-designed wellness program suited to the company’s unique corporate culture.
Since a successful wellness program can result in hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in healthcare premium savings, employers must be strategic when designing a program that will be embraced by employees to provide ROI. Far too many of the wellness programs currently being marketed to employers are sold as a prepackaged, one-size-fits-all, all-purpose solution—often an overpriced one at that. The most effective wellness programs are customized to meet the needs of an organization’s employees and the factors that drive healthcare claims. They take into account the unique culture of a company and deliver the tools and resources that will be embraced by employees, thus providing a strategic allocation of wellness dollars and a high likelihood of success.
Wellness program design begins with an investigation of employee wellness desires, needs, and potential roadblocks to success. This can be accomplished via a series of one-on-one employee interviews, focus groups, and/or surveys, prior to wellness vendor selection and program implementation. This process—actually listening to employees to identify the type of wellness program design that will best fit their needs and the company’s culture—provides a strategic roadmap for wellness program success.
Employers who begin with a clear understanding of employee wellness needs can be confident that the tools and resources of the program will be embraced by the workforce. Those who omit this critical first step in best practice wellness program design should not be surprised if their program fails to achieve the desired participation and ROI.
Once you have a clear understanding of the direction for your customized wellness program (based on a detailed analysis of employee wellness needs) be sure to take the following steps:

1. Obtain Executive Support. A wellness program that does not have full support by the executive team is likely to fail. Design an executive engagement strategy that not only promotes wellness, but that clearly identifies the correlation with future cost savings.
2. Fund It Appropriately. Successful wellness programs are supported by an appropriate wellness budget, suited to the size of your organization. Be sure to allocate a sufficient budget well in advance to your initiative that supports the implementation of your plan.
3. Staff It. In addition to a team of wellness champions tasked with promoting the program and keeping it fresh and fun, you will need at least one full-time individual dedicated to implementation and ongoing program coordination.
4. Design an Effective Marketing and Communications Program. Even the best designed wellness program cannot succeed if employees don’t know about it. Be sure to execute a dynamic, multifaceted marketing campaign to ensure the benefits of wellness remain top of mind with employees at all times throughout the year.
Taking the appropriate steps will significantly increase your chances for wellness program success and ROI by way of employee satisfaction, retention, and healthcare premium cost containment.
Ryan L. Turnbull is vice president of the employee benefits wellness practice at Poms & Associates Insurance Brokers, Inc.

Tags: Benefits, Consultants & Advisors, Engaged Workforce, HRO Today Global, Professional Contribution

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