How to best engage employees in wellness programs

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All too often employers launch a health and wellness program with little or no explanation about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. As a result, the true intent — engaging the plan participant in taking personal responsibility for health — gets lost in translation.

First impressions tend to stick. While a great way to kick off workplace wellness is through an activity challenge like the ubiquitous 10,000 steps program, it’s important that employees understand the bigger picture well before they lace up their sneakers. Wellness is an important vehicle that employers can use to drive participation in disease management.

Do you wonder why you don’t get greater employee participation for activity challenges, even if you offer incentives like a Fitbit raffle or gift cards? Non-participants tend to fall into three categories:

1. Those who are already involved in fitness programs and feel as though a wellness program doesn’t target them.
2. Those who are not active and are intimidated at the notion of exercising.
3. Those who feel corporate wellness programs are an invasion of privacy and perhaps a way for employers to single them out.

Here’s the bottom line about wellness participation: When only a small group of employees is focused on traditional fitness programs, such as eating right and losing weight, very little has been done to address real healthcare cost-drivers for the entire organization.

What if you didn’t have to compete with the pre-conceived notion that wellness is about looking fit? What if your wellness program focused on addressing inner health with the same intensity? Only then can you hope to uncover those factors that eventually lead to high healthcare claims and lost productivity. I call this approach FIT, which stands for Found In Time. In other words, FIT engages employees in metric-bearing activities that reveal diseases and other health conditions they didn’t know they have.

See also: Why it’s important to know the difference between ‘fit’ and ‘well’

The road to FIT is a journey with many hills, valleys and plateaus

Understanding the journey of those seeking to be FIT requires patience, resilience, focus and a daily commitment (or sometimes a daily recommitment). It’s important to understand that this journey should never be considered a straight, ever-rising line to success. Likewise, your expectations of your population’s participation should be tempered.

It’s important to take a long, realistic view when it comes to wellness. Wellness is not an immediate goal, but rather a goal to attain perhaps over three or five years. It’s about successfully completing the compliance-based phase of your wellness strategy so you can move into an outcome-based strategy.

It’s important to remember that physical activity shouldn’t comprise the entire wellness program. Just because someone hits their weekly step count, it doesn’t mean that they’re truly healthy or that they’ve reached the FIT status. They may be building muscle and burning calories through daily activity, but what about their cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure or glucose? Is their waist a healthy circumference?

At Corporate Synergies, we offered employees a discount on their 2017 health premium if they reached platinum status, the highest level of points achieved within the wellness program.

Reaching the platinum level requires employees to do more than walk, jog or swim. They earn points by participating in metric-bearing activities, such as annual health checkups and screening tests, and preventive measures, like immunizations. The goal is to help them determine if they were indeed FIT on the inside while creating an environment that incorporates physical activity into daily life.

My coworkers stepped up to the challenge. By the end of 2016, overall participation in our wellness program was at 88%, and 57% of participants achieved the highest level of the program, platinum, to earn a discount on their healthcare premiums in 2017. Spouses who reached the platinum level also earned a premium discount in 2017, and employees who not enrolled in our health plan (but who have benefits elsewhere) received a gift card for reaching platinum. The 20% of participants who achieved the next level, gold status, maintained their current level of contributions in 2017.

These incentives worked. We heard lots of positive feedback from participants, and we’re repeating the program this year.

Now you know that inner FITness is a harder target to hit than just racking up 70,000 steps in a week. Metric-bearing tests that measure health usually start with a wellness exam, teeth cleaning and oral exam, vision test, skin cancer screening or mammogram. These activities help people define where they are and where they need to go, and should be part of any corporate wellness program.

Moreover, metric-bearing tests define an organization’s true healthcare costs, renewals and profitability. Wellness programs that focus on FITness help everyone create a true picture of corporate and personal health.

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