Today marks National Employee Benefits Day, an occasion aimed at celebrating the industry’s commitment to high quality services for employees and encouraging employers to continue providing motivating and meaningful benefits. When we think of employee benefits in today’s traditional landscape, we don’t typically include wellness within that core definition. Instead, wellness is often considered a separate initiative or stand-alone strategy, which can be a disastrous scenario given that employee benefits and wellness go hand-in-hand. Most employees think of the two as the same, and they expect well-being initiatives to be included in their workday through fitness trackers, standing desks, flex time, healthy food options and more.

[Deb Smolensky]
[Deb Smolensky]

As wellness becomes more mainstream, employers must embrace it as part of a benefits package. When it comes to integrating benefits and wellness successfully as one, consistency between the two is key. Here are five steps benefits managers can take today to streamline their approach to workplace wellness.

1. Implement a consistent strategy. Wellness is often viewed as reactive. For example, claims costs go up, and biometric screenings are subsequently put in place. Or, maybe new data suggests chronic conditions are on the rise in a given year, so incentives are implemented and tied to condition management. This reactive strategy isn’t effective or engaging, and often leads to very low participation and even employee resentment.

With this in mind, employers should start defining their company’s view of wellness, as well as its unique vision and goals, and discussing it with key stakeholders in the firm. With clear and well-defined strategic goals around benefits and wellness, you will be able to strategically implement solutions that are robust, comprehensive, cohesive and stay on course even when challenges arise.
2. Make eligibility requirements uniform. Once your visions are aligned and your overall strategy is in place, consider matching benefit plan eligibility to wellness program eligibility. For example, if your wellness objective is tied to your insurance plans, consider offering programs to your employees, spouses and dependents too. Typically, 50 percent or more of medical plan utilization comes from spouses and dependents, so they should be included in a wellness program aimed at promoting healthy living.

The picture becomes more complex if the idea is to create a motivating, engaging and productive work environment. This calls for a more robust offering. Initiatives can be focused on helping support all employees and allow everyone to participate. These would look similar to some of your more general benefit offerings and perks, like an employee assistance program or onsite fitness centers and sports leagues.

3. Ensure plan design aligns. When considering wellness as part of a comprehensive benefits package, it is important to ensure any plan design changes, especially to medical, are consistent with your wellness objectives and goals. Often, decisions about benefits or wellness are made in silos, which can be counterproductive. For example, when trying to increase medication adherence for a diabetic population and remove barriers to care, be careful when increasing general copay amounts or coinsurance across the board, which could make receiving routine care more expensive. Or, when building a more collaborative and motivating environment focused on resiliency and stress management, sending out a dependent audit that requires all employees to collect tedious information and complete verification forms can cause employee distress.

4. Know what to expect of your carriers and vendor partners. In the spirit of financial wellness, never leave money on the table — especially when it comes to added services from vendors you already employ. Carriers, even outside of medical insurance, will often have wellness solutions and tools you can offer your employees, such as providing free biometric screenings. Even more important, they can provide marketing materials, statistics, benchmarks and trends to drive the program forward.

5. Provide a consistent line of communication. Employee communication is the most critical factor to success for benefits programs. Wellness and benefits should be viewed under one employee engagement brand and umbrella so employees can clearly see everything that is available. Consistently talking about benefits and wellness together will help solidify the connection in employees’ minds. Wellness is multifaceted and tips can be incorporated in various existing communication vehicles. A great example is adding financial and medical wellness tips to brochures about 401(k) plans, flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts. Your employees will begin making the connection between wellness and their lives.

National Employee Benefits Day reminds us of all the great work that benefits managers do every day to enrich employees’ lives. Wellness is a business imperative and key component in any benefits program, and, if done the right way with the right intentions, wellness programs can actually bring significant “benefits” to any benefits offering.

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