Commentary: As I continue to see industry banter around “employee wellness” – why it needs to change, why it’s due for an overhaul, what is the ROI on it, I’ve come to the conclusion that the existing premise and execution of employee wellness is flawed. And, here are five reasons why:
1. It often bypasses health plans. Whether self-funded or fully insured, employers need health plans to manage the “sick care” system (e.g., billing, admin). Yet, when it comes to daily health and wellness activities, there is inconsistency and ambiguity in terms of health plan support and responsibility. Doesn’t it make sense to encourage – or better yet demand – that these activities be included as part of the health plans’ offering?
2. Measurement of investment value is fuzzy at best. Most programs have bypassed reduction in medical costs (already largely shared with the employee) as an absolute goal and are touting increased productivity and reduced absenteeism. Some lighter-weight (no pun intended) wellness programs peddle improved recruitment and retention rates and improved employee morale. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these types of measures, most employee programs are not systematically solving the inefficiencies and hassles of the health care system nor are they effectively improving the ability of an employee to be a discriminating health care consumer.
3. Families are often overlooked. Evidence has shown that if the employee’s entire family is active and participating together, the employee is more likely to adopt and engage in new, healthier behaviors in pursuit of his or her own health goals. And, don’t forget about aging parents. If employers want to be more holistic in their support of employees, programs to help “tweener” employees should be part of their portfolio.
Also see: “Wellness programs ‘massively over-screening’ people.”
4. Wellness programs are largely impersonal and limiting. Many employee wellness programs treat people as a set of biometric numbers and do not address employees in a holistic manner – understanding their needs, interests and other variables beyond their current health status. By building a holistic picture of the individual and their families, employers can better predict their employees’ future needs, receptivity to programs/services and whether they are likely to engage.
5. A t-shirt does not improve population health. Team challenges offering t-shirts and bragging rights as prizes may motivate some people, but not your entire population. People are constantly changing, and their interests, motivations and health status are dynamic and evolving. What activates one person may not work for another, or may not even work for that same person six months from now. And, the same extrinsic rewards that drive engagement initially may not continue to drive and sustain longer-term behaviors. A sophisticated incentive design and reward management system is critical to making sure you are optimizing not only your incentive dollars, but your employees’ health too.
Also see: “How do employers rate wellness programs?”
We would all be better off if we stopped debating the merits of employee wellness and focus on what the intent of it should be – helping employees and their families achieve their optimal health. Employers need to look beyond traditional wellness and start employing (pun intended) solutions that provides a personalized, rewarding experience that delivers value for all who are involved.
Jeff Margolis is chairman and CEO of Welltok, a technology company that enables payers, insurers and health systems to connect with their members and reward them for healthy behaviors.
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