It is undeniable that health risks such as obesity, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking and alcoholism have an overwhelming impact on the workplace: They lower productivity and increase medical spending. These and other related health risks can take a big bite out of a company’s revenue stream.

For that reason, many companies have launched wellness programs to offset rising medical costs while addressing certain health issues. Still, analyzing the true impact of a corporate wellness program can be tricky, as companies have learned that compiling individual health improvements across an entire population to form one standard of measurement is difficult. But how should a company determine if its wellness program is serving as the cost-containment solution it was intended to be?

[Image credit: Getty]
[Image credit: Getty]

To formulate program effectiveness, more employers are embracing value of investment or return on investment, but oftentimes they can’t make the direct connection from seeing a significant difference in their healthcare costs. As HR administrators scramble to rely on business metrics to determine wellness program value, there is a better and often more clear method that accurately captures the business case and performance story. Founded on the idea that when health risks go down, health savings go up, a more accurate measure is the reduction of health risks. In order to collect that type of data, a wellness program needs to be comprehensive, which can only be achieved through implementing real-life engagement that drives sustainable change.

Ok, that sounds nice, but how does that happen?

In my experience, health coaching is often the missing piece to the wellness value puzzle for many companies. Certified health coaches drive engagement and motivate wellness program participants to make healthy lifestyle changes such as losing weight, stopping tobacco use, managing stress and increasing physical activity. Health coaching provides proactive, individualized help to individuals coping with the kinds of preventable health risks that costs the U.S. healthcare system hundreds of billions of dollars every year.

See also: Get in the game: Health coaching helps employees buy into wellness

With health coaching, participants have true-to-life interactions about the health issues that directly impact them on a level that makes sense to them. The workplace wellness program provider’s coaching methods embrace motivational interviewing, a systematic and collaborative process to helping people self-assess and explore their doubts and find the best possible solutions to their most challenging health issues. This method of coaching allows for an open, honest dialogue about underlying lifestyle issues that may keep an individual at risk for poor health and mounting healthcare costs.

Coaching outcomes that define success
It’s necessary for health management programs to assess the major contributors to illness and rising healthcare costs, such as blood pressure, blood cholesterol, body mass index and blood glucose. That means that coaching programs need to focus on those associated risk factors that can be modified through coaching and lifestyle adjustments, including physical inactivity, tobacco use, stress, nutrition and sleep.

Insurance claims are widely used by employers to analyze the cost of healthcare, but claims reductions aren’t the only source to get an accurate picture of health outcomes. Seasonal nuances such as the flu virus may drive doctor visits but shouldn’t dictate whether a wellness program is successful or not. Major health issues aren’t typically representative of an entire population — just those who are unhealthy. In other words, would you rather analyze the money your company has to waste or do you want to measure against the health goals you are trying to accomplish?

See also: Can big data help improve wellness programs?

By adding health coaching to a program offering, employers send a loud, resounding message to employees that their overall health outweighs the health of your company’s balance sheet. Most of the chronic health problems that boost healthcare costs are conditions associated with lifestyle behaviors. For this reason, a wellness program’s initial focus must be on sustainable health improvement, not the bottom line. But ultimately, a company can benefit from the impact of a healthier workforce through lower medical costs and claims, increased productivity and lower absenteeism — factors that add value to your wellness program.

Of all the benefits a company can offer its employees, none are greater than a path to good health. Companies that embody this ideal often adopt a true culture of health, which better positions them for increased, long-term profitability and productivity.

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