How to incentivize employees to participate in company wellness programs

Marty Hauser, CEO, SummaCare, Inc.

Current statistics show an average of three in five employers offer wellness programs, so it’s no surprise employers are seeking help from their benefits administrators and insurers to get employees interested and engaged.

“Getting employee participation and buy-in can be a struggle for some employers introducing a wellness program in their workplace,” says Marty Hauser, CEO of SummaCare, Inc.  “Fortunately, there are a few easy things you can do to increase your chances of having a successful program.”

Smart Business spoke to Hauser about things employers should consider to get employee buy-in and participation when implementing a new wellness program.

What is the most important factor when implementing a wellness program?

Before you commit to and implement a wellness program, make sure you have dedicated resources within your company who can give your wellness program the attention it needs and deserves. Coordinating a successful wellness program requires at least three to four hours of attention each week, and it means more than simply hanging or displaying posters and sharing health tips. Having an internal employee committed to sharing information about the wellness program, answering questions that may come up from other employees and acting as the ‘go-to’ person to assist with any necessary preparations for wellness-related events will increase your chances of having a successful program.

A successful and well-managed wellness program involves on-site activities, including events such as flu shot clinics, worksite wellness seminars, fairs and information sessions, and even group exercise classes.

It is also important to make sure you have more than just senior level buy-in; a wellness program requires time and attention from others in your company who can help make it happen.

How can I get employees in my company involved and committed to a wellness program?

Two questions we often receive from employers that have implemented wellness programs in their workplaces are, ‘Why are our programs not working?’ and, ‘Why are our employees not engaged?’ Simply put, wellness requires attention and nurturing, and a successful wellness program needs ‘cheerleaders’ to support it.

One way to get your employees involved and committed to a wellness program is to create a wellness committee comprising representatives from several areas or departments in your workplace. Forming a wellness committee that includes employees acting as representatives will allow for more feedback about the wellness program you are offering, while serving as a listening platform for challenges and questions among other employees in different areas of the company. These employees and committee members are great sounding boards for what is working and what isn’t, and they can help lead and coordinate the programs and services.

The other benefit of having employees on your wellness committee is that they, too, can and will encourage wellness and participation from their co-workers and friends. Co-workers are likely to support others who are leading wellness efforts, and these relationships can turn into future opportunities for wellness initiatives and activities, such as healthy brown bag lunch days, walking and weight-loss clubs and more.

What kind of wellness program is most popular and attractive to employees?

Wellness programs that offer incentives for participation are successful at getting employees involved. The fact is, people like — and sometimes expect — to be rewarded for good behavior. Offering perks for involvement can help give your wellness program longevity.

When incentives for participation are offered, employees are more likely to be motivated to participate, and this is especially true when the incentives for participation involve money. With this in mind, many employers are moving to an outcome-based rewards program that essentially gives employees the opportunity to earn money back on premiums they pay if certain pre-established wellness goals are met. Outcome-based rewards are popular incentives to influence the behavior of your employees and have a better chance at encouraging behavior and lifestyle changes because of the opportunity to ‘pay less’ for premiums. Because these rewards are often tied to employees’ paychecks and premiums paid for benefits, they are more likely to be motivated to participate when they see the effects of their participation — or lack thereof — on their regular pay stubs.

If you are interested in offering a wellness program that offers incentives and/or an outcome-based rewards program, it’s a good idea to start small and slowly cultivate your program based on employee feedback. In the first year or two, you can offer employees small incentives for participation in activities such as screenings and/or completion of a Health Risk Appraisal, and in the next couple years build up to an outcome-based rewards program with varying levels of rewards depending on goals met.

It’s also important to note that under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, beginning Jan. 1, 2014, employers will be permitted to offer employees rewards of up to 30 percent, potentially increasing to 50 percent, of the cost of coverage for participating in a wellness program and meeting certain health-related standards. This would give employees an even better incentive for living a healthy lifestyle, which, in turn, could give you greater employee engagement.

Regardless of what kind of wellness program you decide to implement, it is important to check with your legal department and labor laws before committing to any program.

The key to any successful program is the support it receives, as well as communicating the program to employees. Discuss your company’s culture and wellness goals with your benefits administrator or insurer so they can help you select a wellness program that is right for you.

Marty Hauser is the CEO of SummaCare, Inc. Reach him at [email protected]

Insights Health Care is brought to you by Summa Care, Inc.