In a 7 a.m. session (yes, 7 a.m. – that’s how early I get up to serve you, DD readers!) at SHRM’s 2009 conference & expo in New Orleans, Don Powell, president and CEO of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, offered his “essentials” for successful wellness programming.

Since research shows employers are maintaining their commitment to wellness regardless of the recession, I thought some insight and expertise from someone from Powell might help you get your programs on the right track. Here’s some of what I overheard:

1. Offer self-care guides. According to Powell, these guides – sort of like a health care encyclopedia or WebMD in print – can bring a 5:1 ROI and reduce employees’ doctor and ER visits. That’s a pretty great return for a booklet, no?

2. Address psychosocial issues in your programs. Powell advocates self-esteem, anger management, depression and even laughter encouragement components of wellness. Ironically, his question of whether attendees had hired “laughologists” for their wellness initiatives got a chuckle from attendees, but it seemed they got Powell’s point nonethless – wellness programs need to target the mind and spirit, not just the body.

3. Target high-risk employees (obviously) and low-risk employees (really?!). Why target your healthy employees, too? Because, Powell said, 10% to 20% of low-risk employees will move into high-risk categories within one year if there is no wellness intervention. So, see that guy eating an apple? Go hand him your wellness materials!

4. Mix high-touch with high-tech. Yes, we know that wellness cannot survive on wireless alone, but Powell laid out the case nonetheless:
* Although 60% of employees have Internet access, only 25% go online for health information on a regular basis.
* An online wellness portal may deny access for spouses, dependents and alienate less tech-savvy older workers.
* Some intranets, generally where such portals are housed, are only accessible from the office. Oops.
* Some employees just prefer print. As Powell said, “There’s a reason that we still get the Yellow Pages delivered to our door every year.”

5. Maximize participation. Some of Powell’s tips:
* Embrace a culture of health. One company, he said, made its elevators move so slowly that employees just gave up and took the stairs. Sneaky!
* Leverage the power of saturation. Communicate, communicate and communicate some more. To prove his point, Powell asked how many attendees could recall the jingles for Winston, Salem and Marlboro cigarettes. Some 60% of the room could remember at least one and a few could remember all three – even though the FTC outlawed cigarette TV advertising in 1971!

6. Involve employees’ families. Remember, you pay claims for dependents, too, and as Powell pointed out, women make 80% of families’ health care decisions, so if you have a male-dominated population, you’re wellness messages may not be reaching the “decider.”

Stay tuned to the Daily Diversion, and Twitter for more updates and observations from SHRM ’09.

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