The critical nature of communication in wellness

It’s no secret that a multi-faceted, well-executed wellness program can be extremely advantageous to both employers and their workers. Wellness can specifically increase job satisfaction among current and prospective employees. However, employers can’t expect these results to occur overnight. While many launch wellness programs, they often fall short of expectations. Perhaps the biggest reason this happens is inadequate communications to employees. 

According to a survey by JD Power & Associates, there is a significant perception gap between what employers consider to be high-quality communications and what their employees actually think about their efforts. The study reported that 75% of employers feel they effectively communicate benefits to their employees. However, only 46% of employees say the communications are clear and effective.

An even smaller fraction of workers say they comprehend information about their benefits (which indicates that the communication isn’t very effective). According to a recent study by economist George Lowenstein in the September 2013 issue of the Journal of Health Economics, only 14% of employees can understand and take action on four of the most basic pillars of healthcare benefits (i.e. deductible, copay, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximum.)

So how can employers better communicate the benefits of wellness programs to employees? Consider these factors:

Generation gaps

When communicating wellness programs and setting expectations for participation, it’s important to take into account the generational chasm:

  • New Silent Generation (Generation Z): 2000-present
  • Millennial (Generation Y): 1980-2000
  • Generation X: 1965-1979
  • Baby Boomers: 1946-1964
  • Silent Generation: 1925-1945
  • G.I. Generation: 1900-1924

Why? Because an employee in Generation Y or Z grew up with a completely different perspective on health and wellness than a Baby Boomer. This means employers must find a variety of ways to communicate with workers representing different generations. For example, some groups may not be aware of the latest discoveries about the long-term impact of chronic conditions (heart disease, hypertension, etc.) and the best ways to treat them, or the latest ways science has improved exercise. To them, this is new information. To others, however, it falls into the “we-already-knew-that” category. As a result, employers must segment their employees and speak and communicate information that is applicable to various ages.  
Communication channels

Additionally, how you communicate is just as important as what you communicate. With the advent of internet access and mobile devices, people no longer rely on a physician or newspapers for health information. Moreover, the speed at which information is transmitted has increased 10- to 20-fold. For some employees, the information comes too fast and they prefer a printed benefits document similar to what they would’ve received a decade or so ago. For others, a text message or email works just fine. Employers can cater to employee preferences by making wellness-related information easily accessible via different technology platforms and communication channels.

Employee motivation

In addition to the right communication program, you need to create the right incentives and awards. To do so requires an understanding of what motivates workers.

A greater percentage of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Additionally, employees are seeing an increased share of their total compensation going to healthcare benefits. These costs have outpaced wage growth for more than a decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, and Employment Cost Index. Employers should therefore communicate the message that wellness initiatives can help employees manage out-of-pocket costs better, thereby saving them money AND making them healthier.

 If employers can confidently say they’ve taken care of all of the above, they’ll be ready to implement their wellness program. It’s vital to communicate and ingrain wellness into the workplace culture in order to set the appropriate foundation.

The upside can be significant. The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reports that a broad-based wellness strategy can reduce the average annual healthcare cost per working-age adult by 18%. 

That’s good for employees, and it’s good business for employers.

Gary Cassidy is director of wellness with Corporate Synergies

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.