More than half (58%) of employers that offer health benefits also offer wellness programs, according to Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2009 Employer Health Benefits Survey. Many of these say their primary reason for doing so is to help improve employees’ health, reduce absenteeism, and lower health care costs. These goals, if achieved, can represent significant cost savings for a company — but this can happen only if employees participate. Frequently, participation in wellness initiatives falls short of expectations. Creative and consistent marketing, together with a careful use of incentives, can positively impact wellness program participation and help these programs bring cost-savings results.
Wellness initiatives run the gamut from simple workplace walking clubs to onsite fitness centers. The most common include health risk assessments; screenings for high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes; exercise incentives, such as discounts to local gyms; weight management and nutrition programs; smoking cessation programs; and disease management programs. According to a survey from Health2 Resources, a health care and e-health public relations and communications firm, 73% of employers measured the return on investment from their wellness programs, and 83% of these employers saw a return of better than dollar for dollar on their investment.
With such a return on investment being possible, increasing employee participation in wellness programs becomes a priority. Here are some ideas to engage employees in wellness initiatives:
Offer the types of programs in which your employees would be interested. A key element of successful marketing is to offer consumers the products they want. Bring this perspective to your wellness initiatives, and survey employees or talk with them informally about various wellness activities that your company would be willing to bring into the workplace, to see where employee interest lies.
Build interest in the program by using a variety of media, beginning several weeks before the program launch date. Remember that individuals learn in many different ways, so employ all means of communication at your disposal: articles in the company newsletter; paycheck stuffers; lunchroom posters and table toppers; e-mails; a letter from top management; employee meetings; DVDs/videos with program highlights; presentations by the wellness program vendor. Furthermore, build excitement for a program launch by dispensing communications strategically and structuring them in a way that enables employees to personalize the experience.
Make it as easy as possible for employees to participate. For example, if your company’s wellness initiatives include onsite screenings, make it easy to sign up for them, schedule them throughout the day, and let employees know they are permitted to take a work break to have the screening done. To encourage spouse participation, include early morning and evening times. If your company’s wellness initiatives include a health risk assessment, offer paper and electronic ways of completing it, and keep it as short and simple as possible.
Make participation fun. Incorporate contests, party-atmosphere health fairs, and club/team based activities that get employees moving (like lunchtime walking clubs, or a softball or bowling team).
Since some employees hesitate to provide health information through a wellness initiative, suspecting that the employer will be privy to it, take steps to overcome this barrier. Clearly communicate the company’s confidentiality policy and the confidentiality guaranteed by HIPAA, as well as the steps taken to ensure that participant confidentiality indeed is maintained.
Offer financial incentives, which are thought by many to be the most effective motivator toward wellness program participation. Common financial incentives include a health plan discount or premium differential, contributions to a health savings account, cash or payroll credits, or copay reductions. The Health2 Resources survey found that two-thirds of surveyed firms that offered wellness programs used incentives to motivate participation. The value of incentives in 2009 averaged $329 and ranged from $1 per pound of weight lost to annual premium reductions valued at more than $1,500.
Most important of all, make sure employees know the value of improving their health, both in terms of disease prevention/longevity and dollars and cents. On some basic level everyone knows it is better to be healthy than not, but drive this point home with accurate data on, for example, the impact being overweight has on all aspects of a person’s health, and how this can translate to an individual’s personal health care spending. The bottom line of well-used wellness programs is significant potential savings for both the employer and program participants.