Employees of all ages have the desire to stay healthy and avoid developing chronic conditions and expensive medical treatments. Yet, even though no one wants to get sick, most employees lack the knowledge and capability of managing their health and the health of their family. This inability has resulted in poor long-term health issues for employees and increased costs for employers as they try to improve health and productivity through ineffective and costly wellness programs, while also paying for expensive medical conditions that could have been avoided.
Fortunately for employers, wellness programs still provide the right framework to reverse this trend and create a new culture of health and wellness in the workplace. While traditional programs have been unsuccessful at engaging employees, technological advancements have enabled employees to track, store and manage an entire family’s healthcare, from any device and at any time of day. This means that employees have more control over their health data and can see the trends and results of their habits and behaviors in real-time, strengthening engagement with their own health and providing the foundation to improve it.
To achieve this culture of health and wellness is no small feat. When determining what type of wellness program best suits a company’s individual needs, consider these three steps:
1. Develop Long-Term Wellness Culture Goals
Traditional wellness programs have, for too long, achieved at best less than ten percent employee participation. This is simply an unacceptable outcome, and a drain on important resources. Focusing on health risk assessments and annual screenings, combined with premium discounts and monetary rewards, may move that number up, but typically those programs result in little, if any, long-term behavioral change. Asking employees to take charge of their health or change their lifestyles overnight is too big a demand to make. Employers must instead, focus on developing their long-term company goals and identify small, sustainable behavioral changes that can lead to much larger improvements down the road. For example, by observing data on current epidemics within their employee pool, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, employers can tailor their care programs for those conditions and help them change their unhealthy habits. Simply purchasing an activity tracker for everyone is not the answer here.
Too often, employers throw a generalized wellness program at all of their employees, with little effort to focus the program to their specific needs. Programs such as these attract only the healthiest individuals, who already demonstrate high levels of motivation and are not incentivized by the program itself. This is the main flaw in traditional wellness programs; healthy individuals continue their healthy habits, while those who need the most support usually abandon the program within a few weeks or months. Employers must be aware of workplace health trends, as they impact their workforce and add to absenteeism, and through this, develop their long-term goals towards building a culture of health within their business.
This holistic view of employee health allows employers to understand and focus on the needs of their employees and provide them with the tools to lead healthier, more productive lives.
2. Take a Holistic View of Employees and Their Families
While developing their long-term goals, employers must also consider the view they have of their employees, and how that view is facilitated by their wellness program. Historically, employers have focused their efforts on tracking health data such as the number of steps or miles walked per day or the results of an annual physical or screening. Though these are important activities, this data only provides a surface-level look into the employee’s health and wellness—which in actuality, is encompassed by all aspects of their life, including physical, mental and emotional health, financial well-being, and the health and wellness of their family members. This holistic view of employee health allows employers to understand and focus on the needs of their employees and provide them with the tools to lead healthier, more productive lives.
For example, if an employee has a child or spouse that is sick or has a chronic condition, they may need to miss work to care for that family member or, more simply, perhaps require a little extra help managing their condition. Without any support, this leads to decreased productivity at work, increased levels of stress, and could result in financial issues for the employee. By recognizing these potential dilemmas, though, and using their wellness program to proactively provide the tools to manage them, employers can encourage employees to make healthy, financially-sound decisions that support their family’s efforts to stay healthy. Such employees will be motivated to make lifestyle changes and be productive part of a company. Also, considering that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that around 50 percent of the population has at least one chronic condition, it is very likely that many employees currently face this very same issue.
3. Utilize a Single Platform
Today’s workforce, and consumer preferences in general, are focused on ease-of-use and a mobile-first mindset. At the moment, there are too many apps that are able to track individual conditions or connect with singular tracking devices, limiting the use of health data. Because of this, employers will need to leverage a wellness program that serves as one single platform for employees to manage all their chronic conditions and health data—meaning that employees and their families only need to download one program on their phone or use one website with their tablet or laptop to access all of their medical records, real-time medical data and health activities or care plans. As life events change conditions and requirements, employees can continue to use this same platform to manage their entire health spectrum and potentially, even utilize other HR benefits as well.
Oftentimes, employers are under the impression that programs such as these are expensive to deploy and manage. Thanks to modern advancements like remote monitoring, wearable devices, and preprogrammed medical care plans, these systems have become much more cost effective for the average employer to deploy on a large scale. And, since only 24.5 percent of companies use advanced technology with their employee benefits program, according to a study from LIMRA, now is the time to get ahead of other employers and identify which platform best suits a company’s needs, before the market is oversaturated.
And lastly, never forget the human side to the equation. While technology will empower employees to make those ever-important behavioral changes, the support and help of care advisors or a nutrition and health coach cannot be understated.
These three steps will help employers identify which wellness program best suits their company’s needs and establish and reinforce a culture of health among their workforce. While this cultural shift will require time, dedication, and hard work to effectively communicate, as long as a business is committed to change, employees will take note and begin making adjustments within their own lives. With time, this will lead to a company-wide culture of health and wellness that will increase productivity, reduce wasteful costs, and retain valuable employee talent