Getting individuals engaged in wellness programs over a long period of time is important for long-term corporate cost savings. It indicates that that individuals who participate in multiple wellness activities have lower health care costs, says Sally Stephens, president of Spectrum Health Systems.
Smart Business spoke with Stephens on how to implement incentives to create involvement in wellness programs and how a company can benefit from this participation.
What is a wellness program?
According to the National Wellness Institute, wellness is a holistic concept approach. It involves looking at the whole person, not just their blood pressure, body fat, exercise behavior or what a person had for lunch. It involves physical, social, emotional, occupational, spiritual and intellectual dimensions.
The most effective approach provides three interdependent levels of wellness programming.
- Information designed to support healthier lifestyle choices (e.g. pamphlets, audiotapes, videotapes, handouts, etc.)
- Personal change, which includes workshops, seminars, classes, individual counseling, biofeedback and other activities
- Organizational support provides assistance in establishing more supportive worksites
One of the most challenging decisions an employer has is what type of wellness programming to include. Wellness programs range from online tools to onsite screenings and workshops. Research indicates that the most effective approach is one that is comprehensive and includes health improvement programs as well as demand management or tools that support plan participants in being smart consumers of health care services.
How can business leaders and managers encourage employees to participate in wellness programs?
Wellness and managing health is a paradigm shift for many, and this shift can be escalated through wellness incentives. The challenge that employers have is marrying the incentive cost with the impact on their total health care. The payout for incentives is immediate, but the recognition of savings from people entering the health care system or not entering the health care system might be longer term.
What types of incentives are appropriate for managers to offer?
What constitutes participation is at the discretion of the employer. The first step in many wellness programs is for workers to complete a health assessment form that identifies their risk factors. As more companies have shifted health care costs to workers in recent years, they have created an incentive for workers to enter wellness programs.
A company might also decide to increase employee premium contributions but will waive the increase if the employee participates in a wellness program. Other companies are becoming more aggressive in their incentives by making health insurance eligibility dependent on enrollment in a wellness program. Other companies have other types of incentives such as cash drawings and gifts. The most common trend is tying participation in the wellness program to plan design.
The most effective time to introduce incentives is with the introduction of the wellness program. Good communication prior to the rollout of the program is critical so employees are clear about the consequences of nonparticipation.
How does the utilization of wellness programs benefit a company?
The wellness push fits well with the consumer empowerment rhetoric surrounding both the movement toward increased cost-sharing with employees and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), a benefit plan that asks consumers to take more responsibility for their health care costs.
Employer benefits include: stabilizing health insurance and disability costs; improving the overall health and well being of employees and their family members; changing behavior to reduce use of health care; increasing employee productivity and minimizing lost work time; integrating health risk management and the health plan; protecting the company’s insurance investment and its employees; and attracting/retaining quality employees.
How do wellness programs benefit the individual employee?
They save employee out-of-pocket costs. They provide the convenience of having treatment and follow-up care performed at or through the worksite. They eliminate nonproductive clinic travel and wait time. They reduce lost employee income by accelerating return-to-work. They can affect behavioral changes that will reduce future risk.
Additionally, health screenings help employees understand their health risks, and a 24-hour support system to solve individual and family health problems.
SALLY STEPHENS is a founder, owner and president of Spectrum Health Systems. She provides the kind of hands-on leadership Spectrum Health Systems needs to deliver cutting-edge health risk management services to its clients that gets results. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (317) 573-7600.