More than half of the average company’s employees do not engage in wellness programs because they don’t think the programs are relevant to them. Thus, changing their minds also requires a change in how the programs are rolled out.

Speaking Monday at a legislative wellness briefing on Capitol Hill, Trip Hofer, senior vice president at Optum, said that while the vast majority of his company’s clients have some sort of wellness program, the companies do not have enough employees using them. According to a 2010 Forrester Research survey provided by Hofer, employees do not engage because they believe the programs are not relevant to them (23%) or don’t know what is offered (32%).

Therefore, you are irrelevant to 55% of the population out of the gate, Hofer says. “We have a lot of people working on [wellness programs] and the population we’re targeting thinks we’re completely irrelevant.”

Previously, wellness teams would reach out to employees and try to improve engagement. But under that method, there is too much hoping, Hofer says: You need to hope the individual was truthful on the health assessment, and hope the assessment was analyzed correctly. Then, once health coaches reach out to the employee, they have to hope they have the right phone number, that the employee is home, picks up the phone and is willing to talk.

Under Optum’s new model, employees have to initiate wellness interventions on their own, by phone and online. “The vision [shifted] from moving from where we try to engage people [to a] model where, ‘I know I have that from the employer and it may help me,’” Hofer says.

Optum also puts health care in employees’ faces. Large posters dominate the workspace, he says. There are no mailers. He also points to Optum’s designated smoking place at its headquarters, which is up a flight of stairs. The steps are lined with posters that say ‘Out of breath? Call our helpline.’ That’s “in-your-face consumer marketing,” Hofer says.

Most important, he says, is moving resources onsite, or “getting people out of the call center and moving them into those organizations that are paying for them.” He points to a worksite where all the employees ran to McDonald’s for lunch during short breaks, buying unhealthy food. Working with the fast food joint, he got them to offer discounts for purchasing healthier items, such as salads. You wouldn’t have known that sitting in a business office in Minnesota, he says.

Yet, it is important to realize that the workplace means different things to different people, he adds, such as a cell phone company, who may have many mall kiosks. In that case, Hofer suggests going to those who supervise the staff, as he did with Sprint.

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