If your employees don’t take an interest in their health care, their productivity declines, company morale takes a hit and the entire organization suffers.
“Employers are increasingly concerned about finding ways to improve employee productivity while reducing the number of sick days and health insurance claims,” says Sally Stephens, president of Spectrum Health Systems.
Keeping employees healthy is key to keeping them engaged in their role with the organization, Stephens says a factor that is often overlooked as companies struggle to find solutions to rising health care costs.
Smart Business spoke with Stephens about the factors that prevent employee engagement and how to remove those factors from your organization.
Why should employers be concerned with employees’ health?
Research shows that healthy employees get sick less often, miss fewer days of work and have fewer workers’ compensation claims. Morale and productivity will also improve in a working environment in which employees are healthy and engaged in their work.
What are the key factors that prevent employee engagement?
One of the key factors is lack of motivation. While employers that see their profit margins diminished by the increasing cost of providing health insurance benefits are strongly motivated to find solutions that can impact their costs, their employees may not share that motivation.
In addition, as employees see their own financial assets dwindle, they may be inclined to put their health their No. 1 asset on the back burner. By ignoring their own health issues, employees may be deferring costs in the short term to potentially incur greater costs in the future.
Another key factor that prevents employee engagement is high stress levels. Because most employees are concerned about job security, managing their stress level may prove to be quite a challenge. If not managed carefully, uncontrolled stress can take a toll on an individual’s overall health, leading to a decrease in productivity and an increase in absenteeism. Overly stressed employees are focused elsewhere and may not be managing their health appropriately.
How can employers improve employee engagement?
Build your case. Although rising health care costs are widely publicized, employees remain skeptical that the problem actually affects employer operations. Organizations need to be more candid and forthcoming about the amount they spend on health care and how that relates to budgetary constraints.
Remove as many of the barriers to employee engagement as possible. If the organization’s expectation is that employees must improve their health to lower costs, then provide them with the right tools, programs and education to help their efforts succeed. Offering a variety of programs through multiple media and settings will give everyone the opportunity to become engaged.
Take advantage of what motivates employees. In many cases, motivation can be created through incentives. The right incentive can motivate employees to participate and complete health improvement programs. Finding the right strategy, such as contests and campaigns, can generate excitement and get the majority of employees involved in a common activity.
What can employers do to maintain employee engagement?
Consider the corporate culture. An effective wellness initiative must reflect the culture of the employer. While program areas will be determined by analyzing employee health risks, the actual offerings must be shaped by the nature of the employer.
Different demographics have different needs. For instance, a younger work force will have different needs than an older work force. A global employer with mobile employees and an employer with one central location have different needs.
A strong, sustainable and integrated branding and communications campaign is critical to future engagement. One effective strategy is to focus on the benefits to the employee and not to the employer. Present the information through multiple channels constructed in a way that makes sense to all levels of employees. And communicate not only to employees but to dependents and retirees, as well.
Ideally, your message can be incorporated into job descriptions, performance evaluations and team meetings.
How can you ensure that your employees understand the goals of your plan?
Repeat your message, and repeat it again. As a potential cost-saving strategy, health improvement programs must be given the same executive substructure and internal commitment as any comparable employer effort.
Organizations must not approach wellness as simply a preventive, financially motivated program but rather as an opportunity for the employer to be an employer of choice. A good wellness program helps your organization become more competitive in terms of attracting the best employees because it shows that you have made a commitment to helping them live a healthy lifestyle.
This approach can have an impact on creating a health improvement mindset in your culture.
In addition, encourage all your financial and health care partners to include the same elements into their communications. Frequently communicating the same message will change behavior throughout the organization.
Sally Stephens is president of Spectrum Health Systems. Reach her at (317) 573-7600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.