An increasing number of employers are offering worksite wellness programs, but can these programs be effective? The answer is “yes.”

Successful worksite wellness programs may help improve employees’ health and productivity and reduce medical costs for employees and the company. The Wellness Council of America states that workplace wellness programs are a wise investment to help address rising health care costs and help improve employees’ health and well-being.

New technologies, such as pedometers and other wearable devices, are making it easier and more interactive for employees to participate in these wellness programs and take charge of their health. The adoption of wearable devices is part of the growing use of corporate wellness incentives, which have doubled in value to $594 per employee since 2009, according to a recent study from the National Business Group on Health. By providing employees wearable devices and other resources, employers are able to encourage more active and healthier lifestyles and track the actual activity levels of program participants.

Also see: Wearable devices: Just a fad, or the future of wellness?

Here are 10 more tips for employers to help implement an effective wellness program:

  1. Understand Your Workforce – Review past insurance claims data, employee surveys and health assessments to select wellness programs that address your employees’ most common health challenges.
  2. Create a Plan – Develop a detailed plan that outlines short- and long-term objectives, budgets and expected outcomes.
  3. Include rather than Exclude – Make wellness activities available for all employees and spouses/domestic partners.
  4. Offer Biometric Screenings – Biometric screenings may give employees a better snapshot of their current health. Screenings held onsite at the workplace and at health fairs may encourage more employees to participate.
  5. Select Wellness Champions – Set up a wellness committee with “wellness champions” who will help drive your wellness program. Choose leaders within the organization who are respected by their peers. Make champion status an honor, and others will want to serve.
  6. Communicate – Use email, promotional flyers and in-person meetings to communicate your wellness programs. Messages from executives will demonstrate leadership support and likely improve participation in the wellness program.
  7. Offer Incentives – Participation in wellness programs significantly increases when employers offer employees incentives. Incentives can include gift cards, lower health insurance premiums, cash bonuses, and discounts on various health products and services.
  8. Provide Employees with Digital Tools – Digital tools (e.g. online, mobile, tablet) help employees keep track of their health care costs and become more informed health care consumers.
  9. Track Results – Evaluate your wellness program each year. Work with your health plan to measure the impact on employee engagement and medical costs.
  10. Solicit Feedback – Be flexible and listen to your employees on how to improve the program for next year.

At Zurich North America, we have implemented many of these practices. For instance, we created a voluntary walking challenge and provided free pedometers to more than 2,400 employees, as well as enabled employees with a Fitbit to synch their steps to an online platform that allowed wireless tracking of daily steps. During the eight-week walking challenge in 2014, the participating Zurich employees took nearly 800 million steps, with the average employee walking four miles per day.
Following these tips, including the adoption of new technologies such as wearable devices, may help employers and employees maximize the benefit they get out of employer-sponsored wellness programs – and improve the health of the company and its workforce.

Sarah Staggs is vice president and head of benefits for Zurich North America, and Carol Calvin, RN, MS, CPQH, is national director of UnitedHealthcare Health and Wellness

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