Open enrollment can be a great time to showcase your wellness program and link it to your overall health management strategy. However, some experts caution against introducing a new wellness initiative at this busy time of year.

"Many employers tend not to communicate often enough throughout the year, then wind up bombarding employees with too much information during large campaigns, specifically around annual enrollment," says Foy Curley, Jr., senior associate in communications with Employee Benefits Solutions in Houston. "Employees already spend too little time reviewing enrollment materials; mixing the communications messages across two important initiatives will likely alarm some employees into ignoring everything and cause others to focus on one campaign or the other, not both."

If you do roll out a wellness initiative in conjunction with open enrollment, careful planning is essential. Here, we share a few EBN readers' success strategies for maximizing wellness program participation, both during OE and throughout the year. You'll find more advice in the Wellness Programs supplement on our website.


Give wellness the spotlight it deserves
Dan Potterton, chief operating officer, FEI Behavioral Health
Implementing an employee wellness program is a significant investment for many companies, and it's important for leaders to achieve a strong program launch. Ideally, a wellness initiative should kickoff separately from the company's open enrollment to keep it from being lost in a vast array of other benefits options. For companies that do choose to unveil a wellness plan during open enrollment, there are several tips for engaging employees and maximizing impact.

Know your focus

Outline key program aspects and goals prior to the launch. A poorly planned program won't get off the ground. Three-to-six months prior to the targeted launch date, secure the support of C-suite executives and encourage them to lead by example. This also is a good time to organize a wellness committee and identify department "champions" who will foster ongoing engagement among their fellow employees.

Start small and build up

Instead of presenting a sweeping, broad-scope wellness initiative during open enrollment, keep the initial presentation manageable. There is so much information vying for people's attention during this period that employees may feel overwhelmed. Choose a handful of wellness attributes to promote for the first year and build from there. Provide employees with long-term incentives for participating.

Make wellness fun

Stay in front of employees beyond the program's initial kickoff by hosting other wellness-related events. Friendly competition and activities like a workplace "Biggest Loser" contest keep employees motivated and eager to participate, even after open enrollment communications are past. Here are a few other ideas:

  • Organize an onsite health fair.
  • Offer blood pressure screenings, chiropractor visits and consults.
  • Arrange visits from outside vendors offering healthy foods or beverages.

Consistent communication
Since wellness is likely one of many benefit changes announced during open enrollment, it's important to share key messages consistently and often. Communication also shouldn't end with an introduction to program elements - in the months that follow a wellness launch, consider:

  • Publishing employee wellness successes in corporate newsletters.
  • Measuring and reporting progress.
  • Establishing a social media presence: Facebook, Twitter, wellness blogs, e-newsletters.

By keeping these tips in mind, companies can successfully capture employees' attention for a wellness initiative, even amid the business of open enrollment.

It's not when, but how you engage employeesAndrew Foote, director of product development, OptumHealth

Corporate benefit managers differ widely on when to roll out a wellness program: during open enrollment or at another time, when there are fewer distractions? But the more pressing question is: Why do some wellness programs fail to engage employees and deliver expected cost savings?

The traditional approach - outbound cold-calling - yields low engagement rates because it assumes that employees are ready to change upon being contacted and want to engage with a health professional by phone.

A better approach is to drive inbound engagement by continuously promoting wellness programs throughout the year, thereby enabling employees to initiate dialogue about the programs on their terms. Healthy cooking demonstrations, "ask an expert" sessions and onsite fitness classes are examples of innovative approaches that help maximize employee engagement.

Some employers also use an onsite health specialist - a health professional - who serves as a day-to-day resource for employees' health-related questions, drive increased screening and health risk assessment completion, and help connect them to the company's clinical, wellness and online health management resources. When employees are ready, they engage the specialist. Employee engagement increased four-fold at one large firm when using an onsite health specialist, compared with using traditional outbound calling by a nurse.

Onsite health promotion can revolutionize traditional wellness and disease management programs by delivering offerings in the environment in which employees spend most of their waking hours.


Use OE to establish health awareness and baselines
Dena Engstrom, associate vice president and manager, employee benefits, Davidson Companies, Great Falls, Mont.
Davidson Companies is one of the leading regional financial services holding companies in the U.S. Headquartered in Montana, the company has a reach that stretches across 16 states - and we continue to grow. The firm is focused more than ever on the link between company success and the physical and emotional well-being of our associates.

To assist our associates in reaching their health and wellness goals, we have several initiatives in place:

  • The company has a wellness program with health coaches provided through HealthCheck 360, a health and wellness consultant.
  • Management has appointed Wellness Champions at various company locations to help foster a local culture of health.
  • We offer an annual health risk assessment and biometric screenings.
  • All associates may take part in our "Bring Your Own Lunch Box" education series, which focuses on our population's risk factors, accompanied by weekly challenges.
  • Employees and their household dependents have 24/7 access to an employee assistance program.

While most of these benefits are publicized all year long, the health risk assessment and biometric screening are tied to open enrollment. Each fall, all associates who want to participate in the Davidson Companies health plan must complete the HRA. At the same time, we make a biometric screening available to all associates and spouses and encourage them to participate. The screening is paid for by the company whether or not the individual is on the company-sponsored health plan.
We also tell our associates prior to open enrollment what, if any, incentive will be offered for the next year to help them determine their personal health goals.



Diversify wellness messages and methods
Dr. Hamidah Sharif-Harris, president, Sharif HR Consulting, LLC


Employee groups are inherently diverse with regard to age, ethnicity and culture, language, education and health literacy. The old "one size fits all" strategy of generic marketing materials and delivery methods has not been successful for many employers. The results include limited understanding, low participation and poor engagement in wellness programs.

When aiming to reach more of your targeted employees during open enrollment, your communications should focus on two main diversity goals: message diversity and method diversity.

Message diversity

Because of the multifaceted nature of open enrollment, it can be challenging to include wellness in the communications strategy. However, with the right set of messages at the right time, delivered with the right mix of methods, your employees will feel more empowered.

Striking the right balance requires gathering information on your employees before attempting to communicate with them. The information you should compile includes ethnic composition, languages spoken, occupations and education levels. According to the National Business Group on Health, employers may be unaware of social inequities that exist in the society that can negatively impact employee's health status and result in health disparities between workers.

Awareness of these inequities and of the diverse communication needs of the workforce is essential to employers. It is important that the messages are vetted by a small group of diverse employees to ensure the wording, pictures and tone is appropriate and culturally sensitive.

Occupational differences should also be accounted for in wellness communications. The language and tone that can be used for first responders is different than for administrative professionals.

It can be useful to include pictures of actual first responders on wellness materials. This strategy often communicates pride and respect, which are more likely to result in engagement. When messages are targeted to the audience, employees are more likely to see themselves in the programming and feel connected to the wellness program overall.

Method diversity

There was a time when printed letters and postcards were enough to engage employees. However, in the digital age when employees are bombarded with so many messages from so many sources, employers have to use more creativity. Incorporate social media such as Twitter into your strategy by providing "welltweets," which should include small bits of information such as new workshop topics for the year and additional locations for activities.

Employers also should use a wellness text-alert system to send brief messages about programs and include links to the program's mobile sites. Other successful strategies include combining print materials with digital communications by using QR-coded postcards, flyers, paycheck cards, etc. QR codes are printed on the collateral, and when the employee scans the barcode with the camera on their smartphone, they are immediately linked with the website, the telephone number is instantly dialed or a text message is sent.

There are many exciting ways to engage employees during open enrollment. Remember to assess your population first, use smart and efficient technology, and you will see significant engagement in your wellness program.



Go green to ease administration and boost engagement
Ann Campanella, MA, PHR, organizational development, Lake County Government, Waukegan, Ill


We have an extensive wellness program with a menu of events employees can choose to participate in. A sample of events includes biometric health risk assessment, a 5K, a weight-loss challenge, a fitness boot camp and wellness education. Employees can earn up to $300 in cash incentives which accumulate throughout the year and is paid out at year-end. We require verification of event completion to receive the cash incentive.

In the past, we printed fact sheets that explained the details of each event and registration forms for over 20 different wellness offerings. Consequently, enrollment and verification paperwork was a manual, time-consuming process. We requested the help of our IT department and created a wellness database that now houses all of the details of our wellness program. In addition to being green and eliminating most paperwork, our objectives were to:

  • Create an electronic, interactive wellness environment.
  • House program and event information.
  • Create an electronic employee self-service registration site.
  • Provide electronic payroll deduction authorization (for events that require a small fee).
  • Verify that participants complete the event.
  • Allow employees to check the status of their wellness information at any time.

The front page of the database contains all the offerings that employees and their dependents can participate in. Information and registration is only a click away. The name of each offering is a link that opens a PDF document explaining the event. Checking a box next to an event opens a registration link in which employees can register themselves and their dependents.
This new paperless system has been embraced by employees. It has decentralized our process and empowered employees to take charge of their wellness participation. We are only in the first quarter of implementation; however phone calls and emails containing questions about the wellness program have decreased dramatically, while participation has increased.



Assemble a winning team
Dorothy Miraglia, principal, Strategic Benefit Solutions, AlphaStaff, Inc.


Wellness can best be described as an individual's commitment to good health, whether that goal is simply staying healthy or managing conditions (physical, mental, emotional and financial) that impact daily living. Wellness programs at work help change the workplace culture by encouraging employees to become engaged, giving them a path to wellness and then rewarding that behavior. One of the best ways to ensure engagement is to appoint respected employee advocates or "wellness champions" to keep the program on track and help motivate others on their journey.

There are usually one or two individuals at work who are "influencers." They are not necessarily supervisors or managers, but are generally upbeat about themselves and the environment they work in. Recognizing who they are and appointing them as wellness champions is the first step in getting the ball rolling.

Once identified, wellness champions should be trained accordingly. The role of a wellness champion is to communicate, participate, motivate and support the wellness program.

Their input is invaluable, and they should be involved in creating the communication and content so they can grasp what will be shared with employees and be fully committed to their new role.

Wellness champions should also be the ones to help determine how information will be communicated companywide, roll out specific wellness initiatives and tap other advocates to assist them in implementing and reinforcing the plan. They will also provide feedback regarding their perspectives and best practices.

When employers are considering a health wellness campaign, wellness champions should keep in mind that the program should offer something for everyone. Whether employees want to stay healthy or need help with a serious medical concern, wellness champions should be able to assist them with finding a resource to meet their needs.

With the right wellness champions on board, wellness programs can be an effective way to improve employee health, happiness and productivity.

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