Seven Pillars of Smart Employee Wellbeing Programs

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​If you are in human resources or finance, you are likely aware that you have a plethora of ideas, vendors and promised solutions at your disposal when it comes to ways to engage and empower your workforce in the pursuit of personal wellbeing.  Our role as benefit consultants is to be well versed in the ever evolving and increasingly data-driven options at your disposal, one of which is wellbeing.

What is wellbeing?  Why should I care about wellbeing?  These are important questions to consider and there are numerous books and scholarly articles written just on these topics alone.  In short, wellbeing has to do with all aspects of life (emotional, environment, spiritual, financial, social, physical, occupational and intellectual). 

Effective wellbeing programs facilitate your employees’ and their dependents access to tools or resources that meet them where they are at and simplify the journey for where they want to be.

Employee Wellbeing Rationale

So where do you start?  Or do you start at all? There are still some skeptics that wellness programs work. 

In our experience, it is difficult to precisely measure the ROI from wellbeing initiatives, however, you cannot argue with the fact that employers consistently winning top places to work awards are generally very intentional about creating a culture that empowers their employees to pursue personal wellbeing. 

Still, if you are looking for the hard numbers, most vendors point to independent research that suggests a 1.5 6 times ROI.  The downstream ROI and VOI (value of investment) opportunities are numerous and compelling.

Early Identification of Health Concerns

Consider my story, for instance.  As a regular runner (at least as much as you can be given Central New York’s long winters) and active individual in my mid-twenties, I became aware of very high cholesterol through a simple annual biometric screening put on by my employer.  Through diet and exercise I have been able to bring my cholesterol down to much healthier levels. Who knows, perhaps my efforts have also or will prevent an episode of congestive heart failure? Do you remember when your youthful sense of invincibility dissolved?  In my case, it didn’t happen too late, thankfully!

Both the individual’s and the employer’s wallet benefit from the early identification and intervention afforded through wellbeing investments such as biometric screenings. What’s more, avoided health insurance claims will translate to lower health, life, disability and voluntary insurance program premiums. 

Reduced Presenteeism:

The ROI can extend much further than insurance premiums alone.  Employers have much to gain by empowering employees with solutions that help reduce stress in their lives.  Consider personal finances, for instance. A recent study found that 78% of employees live paycheck to paycheck and the result of this is significant financial stress that accompanies them into the workplace.  The impact of this stress on their productivity is well established. 

A quick query on “presenteeism” and you will find an abundance of statistics pointing to numerous hours of lost productivity per employee per year due to employees dealing with personal finance issues alone.  Presenteeism costs US employers an estimated $160 billion dollars per year.  With the U.S. workforce at approximately 160 million, that amounts to a presenteeism cost of $1,000 per employee per year on average.

Hopefully you agree that an investment in your employees’ wellbeing is an investment in your organization and one that has potential to pay significant dividends.

What makes up a quality Wellness Program

While each company is unique and has varying amounts of resources to commit to employee wellbeing programs, the following is intended to inform you on some of the emerging aspects of employer wellness programs, but also the tried and true “must haves” that are overlooked at your own risk.

Characteristic #1: Wellbeing Must be Embraced by Top Leadership First

Personal wellbeing and accountability must be embraced from the top down.  Wellbeing programs thrive only when the leadership team embrace them and are not only willing to participate but to also share personal, authentic testimonies.

Wellness programs will be looked at skeptically and have low engagement in organizations lacking trust between employees and management. Management team members who champion personal wellbeing and showcase the personal application of the tools and resources provided by the employer, however, will accelerate building a culture of trust and participation in wellness program offerings.

Characteristic #2: Effortless Access to Wellbeing Solutions

It is imperative that you make it easy for employees to access the tools and resources made available to them through your wellbeing programs.  If descriptions are only available on paper or through clunky, unorganized intranet portals, even the most incentive laden programs will lack engagement. 

In addition to being easily available on a self-service basis, wellness solutions must not only be communicated at open enrollment or haphazardly throughout the year but should have an appropriate mixture of stairwell posters, scheduled email outreaches, restroom mirror clings, and so on; be creative!

Characteristic #3: Wellbeing Solutions that are Relevant for Everyone

Your wellbeing programs must be designed to be relevant to everyone, not just your perception of the “problem populations”.  For instance, a wellbeing program must be far more extensive than just smoking cessation and healthy recipes. Wellbeing for a millennial is significantly different than for a baby boomer or generation X employee.  Additionally, wellbeing for a tech-savy, desk-sitting population should likely have a different look and feel to it than one for a field construction team. 

Simply put, wellbeing is as much about keeping people well as it is helping make people well.  Wellbeing programs that are only “corrective” in nature are short-sited and will never move the needle of your entire population’s net health toward the green. It is just as important for you to empower your young, healthy employees to maintain or establish daily patterns of personal accountability and wellbeing as it is for you to engage your population with already compromised health.

Characteristic #4: Wellness Committee vs Individual Champion

Wellbeing programs managed by a wellness committee or taskforce have the greatest track-record of sustained success.  Too often, employer wellness is handed off to a benefits manager or someone without the expertise or opportunity to truly engage the management team in the buy-in necessary to get any widespread traction. 

Additionally, wellness programs handled by a single individual often quickly lose steam if not fall apart altogether when that individual leaves the company or changes roles.  Regaining your employees’ confidence in your wellness programs will be challenging following a failed or short-lived attempt. Having a committee approach to wellness helps ensure a continuity and diversity of thought which are crucial for the longevity of your plan.

Characteristic #5: Diversified Wellbeing Task Force

For wellness offerings to be “all encompassing,” as described previously, a wellness task force comprised of individuals from a diversity of roles and demographics will go a long way toward ensuring relevant wellbeing programs.  It is also important to ensure a good mixture of staff and management from various areas of the company.

In addition, your benefits consultant should routinely attend these meetings and help provide guidance, research vendor solutions and leverage existing insurance carrier relationships to enhance wellness program offerings.   

Characteristic #6: Employ Mobile Friendly Technology

Today’s age of technology and ever-expanding internet of things has drastically improved the opportunity for employers to connect with your workforce in more dynamic ways than ever before. 

This trend continues to provide employers with the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage over your competition due to the numerous benefits building a culture of health has on hiring and retention not to mention the well-established creativity, innovation and productivity gains.

In particular, large employers (typically those with over 100 employees enrolled on their health plan) and self funded employers have access to more data than ever before.  With this, you are often able to connect your employees to more data, tools and resources than your employees could gain access to on their own. 

There are many options today from a mobile app perspective that connect individuals with their personal health data as well as tools and resources to better manage their health.  If you can think of it, there’s probably an app for it!

Some of the best apps are ones that compare costs and quality outcomes for medical services or prescription drugs across providers or pharmacies.  Other apps are designed to help individuals count calories or set exercise goals, linking to an individual’s activity tracker (who doesn’t seem to own a fitness tracker these days)?

The opportunities are endless when it comes to utilizing some of this technology to create healthy competitions within the workplace or to provide concierge-level support to individuals navigating chronic conditions or illnesses.

Characteristic #7: Leverage Data and/or Data-Driven Population Health Partnerships

Coming from a background of data analysis, this last characteristic is one I am possibly the most passionate about.  Incidentally, it ties to a critical aspect of Consiliarium’s consulting approach.  At least once per year, it is extremely important to take a step back and seek answers to questions such as:

  • For metrics we have been tracking, how does the most recent 12 months of data compare to the previous?

  • Are wellness efforts focused on this area paying off or do they need to be adjusted?

  • Is one initiative getting more return than another? Should we invest more heavily in the one that we are getting more return on?

  • How is high cost claimant activity impacting my results?

  • What new metrics can we set as a baseline for future comparison against?

  • Are there any new conditions or trends in the marketplace (i.e. a new drug or treatment plan) impacting our claims spend that we need to focus on?

  • Are there other vendors/partners with better solutions than our existing solutions, or ones that can help us take our data insights to the next level?

  • What is the employee sentiment toward these programs, positive or negative?

  • Have we communicated success stories and the metrics we have made progress on to all our staff and management?

For companies really interested in taking a data-driven approach to setting wellness strategy for their firm, there are a number of vendors that you can turn to.  The services they provide enable you to craft sophisticated, technology-driven wellbeing programs with close to real-time data to track the effects of these programs. 

These vendors typically have sophisticated dashboards that quickly point to opportunities for communication & education within your workforce.  The insights gained are instrumental for helping your employees and their dependents become better stewards of their healthcare.

Finally, even absent partnering with a wellbeing vendor for your wellness program, you can still offer a robust, data-driven workplace wellness program.  If you are large enough to receive aggregated health insurance claims data on your employee population, we always recommend beginning here. There is generally ample data available to identify prevalent conditions or behavior patterns within your workforce.  Then, with your benefit consultant’s guidance, put pen to paper on a plan of attack with a strategic timeline and responsibilities assigned for executing your plan.

Employee Wellbeing is a Critical Investment

Whether you like it or not, your workplace is the center for employee disease prevention and management.  Your employees have no greater source of influence, than you, their employer, to educate and empower them in their pursuit of personal accountability and wellbeing. The fact that many employers still place a low priority on workplace wellness and wellbeing programs means there is an even greater incentive and opportunity today for those willing to jump in with both feet to gain a competitive edge on their peers. 

Where are you at today?  If you or your firm is still on the sideline, are you ready to bring an intentional, coordinated focus on personal wellbeing to your workplace?

Benjamin Lewis

About the Author

Ben Lewis resides with his wife and four kids in Rochester, NY where he has lived since coming to Rochester for college in 2001.  After completing his Bachelors of Science in Mathematics at Rochester Institute of Technology in 2005, Ben went on to work at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield where he developed insurance rates for large fully insured and self funded employers.  During these years Ben also obtained his MBA in Finance from RIT.   With industry experience coming from a variety of rolls in finance, marketing, benefits consulting and even a brief stint as an HR Benefits Manager, Ben joined Consiliarium Group as a partner in April, 2019.  Brought on as the Strategic Healthcare Practice Leader, Ben’s responsibilities include heading up the Self Funded business unit, vetting emerging healthcare technology or vendor solutions, and championing the marketing efforts at Consiliarium.  Ben’s ambition is to help employers empower individuals to pursue personal well-being by working with HR and Finance teams employ smart, sustainable benefit solutions that meet individuals where they are at and simplify the journey for where they want to go.