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Sunday, 24 May 2015 22:00

Successfully engaging employees requires strong wellness culture

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Companies put a lot of resources and time into creating wellness programs, but even the best planning cannot guarantee that employees will get involved.

In fact, driving employee engagement in wellness ranked as the top challenge by nearly three-quarters of the more than 1,800 employers nationally who answered A.J. Gallagher & Co.’s annual benchmarking and benefits survey.

Experts say offering financial incentives such as gift cards can work initially to bring employees into a new program. To get them to stick with it and to drive lifestyle changes that improve health, employers need to evolve both the incentives and the wellness offerings.

“If you incent participation, you have to have a comprehensive, high-quality program in place because the incentives will bring people,” said Ken Holtyn, a wellness consultant owner of Holtyn & Associates LLC in Kalamazoo. “We’ve seen that in the research, but then that tapers off after a while. If you don’t have high-quality programs in place, people quit showing up or they just come for the money and then (their programs) do not work. There’s no effort to improve their health.”

The A.J Gallagher & Co. survey indicates that employees today “are looking for more than just traditional wellness opportunities. They want wellness options that are meaningful specifically to them and their families.”

One effective practice for driving engagement is reducing employees’ share of their health premiums if they participate in health screenings and assessments, or if they attain goals such as losing weight or meeting targets for their blood pressure or cholesterol level.

“There has to be financial engagement for employees who choose to understand their own health risks,” said Doug Derks, area vice president and manager of the benefits division at A.J. Gallagher’s Grand Rapids office. “That’s done through, we hope, reducing premium copays for them so that they understand, as an example, ‘I’m going to save $500 if I get this biometric screening that’s paid for by my employer.’ That’s about the number we see being necessary to get employees to engage.”

In the 2014 national survey of large employers by HR consulting firm Mercer, 56 percent of respondents said they use financial incentives to get employees to participate in health assessments, screenings or lifestyle management programs, compared to 52 percent in 2013 and 48 percent in 2012.

In crafting a wellness program, employers should focus on rewarding employees for participation or achieving a health goal, rather than imposing penalties for the lack of participation that potentially can cause employee backlash by introducing a “negative message.” That’s according to Sandra Kuhn, a principal at Mercer’s Chicago health and benefits office who covers Michigan and serves on the firm’s Total Health Management practice.

“The idea of being healthy and of it being an important value of the business to be healthy resonates throughout the culture of the organization and people are feeling more comfortable with that. If you think about that kind of culture, introducing a ‘stick’ or a negative message around mandatory (participation) or anything related to that, that’s just not compatible with the culture of health,” Kuhn said. “Most employers are really looking to encourage the participation and bring people to the table because they want to make those behavior changes. Sending the wrong message or sending a message that has a negative connotation to it culturally can just really backfire.”

Corporate culture and management support for wellness are critical elements to getting employee engagement, experts say.

If employees don’t see management, executive leadership or ownership embracing wellness, they likely won’t either.

“You have to have leadership support from the top. Lots of times, you’ll see a wellness program fail because you have maybe an HR person championing it but you don’t have executives within the organization really putting on a good face and showing public support for the wellness program,” said Aaron MacDonald, director of small group sales and distribution for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Kandi Lannen, director of wellness at Grand Rapids-based Priority Health, rates creating a culture of wellness as the biggest factor for driving employee engagement. Without a culture within the company that says improving your health or maintaining good health is important, individual tactics or incentives are probably for naught, Lannen said.

“Culture really does belong at the top. That’s really the number-one pillar to having a successful wellness program — to know you have that support within the organization,” she said. “If our goal is to create a successful wellness program that’s going to show long-term results, we can’t do that unless our key tactic is having a culture that supports that.”

SIDEBAR: Wellness impacts

Fifty-five percent of large employers responding to a 2014 Mercer survey seek to determine the “value of investment” for their wellness program. Here’s the percentage who believe wellness had a positive impact on specific areas:

  • Medical cost trend — 70%
  • Improved productivity — 18%
  • Improved attraction/retention — 15%
  • Disability cost trend — 10%
  • No positive impact so far — 20%

SIDEBAR: Wellness activities

Here are some of the activities that large employers responding the 2014 Mercer survey have incorporated into their wellness program:

  • Biometric screening — 59%
  • Group wellness challenges — 44%
  • Onsite exercise/yoga/weight loss class — 50%
  • Personal challenges — 41%
  • Peer-to-peer support — 21%


Read 5508 times Last modified on Sunday, 07 June 2015 23:30

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